Kiwi families say they are increasingly using positive parenting techniques because they work, according to 100 ordinary families’ descriptions of their own parenting methods.
Interviews were conducted with 117 parents from 100 families as part of a Families Commission Blue Skies funded project that investigated what kind of discipline strategies are used by today’s families with their pre-school children. Researchers Julie Lawrence and Anne B Smith also asked families to record their discipline practices in parenting diaries.
Family discipline is a controversial topic which has been debated for centuries, and which is known to have a lifelong effect on the well being of children. This report provides a snapshot of the views, experiences and practices of a sample of 100 New Zealand families, in relation to the discipline of their preschool children.
Parents/caregivers were asked about what they believed about discipline, how they disciplined their children, and the type of support and stress that they experienced with parenting. The study also looked at the effect of child and family characteristics and context over time, on discipline. The study used a multi-method approach, involving semi-structured parent interviews, parent diaries of disciplinary events over three days in a two week period, and a standardised tool, the Parenting Daily Hassles scale. One hundred and seventeen caregivers comprised the national sample – 99 mothers, 18 fathers, one grandfather and two grandmothers. The findings include the following headings: beliefs about discipline; disciplinary practices; the influence of child and family characteristics, stresses, context and support. The findings suggest a more favourable picture of New Zealand parents’ disciplinary practice than previous research has, showing that the majority of parents took an authoritative (firm but warm) approach, and suggests that professionals who work with families could benefit from professional development programmes focusing on effective approaches to discipline.
Research shows disciplinary practices during childhood have lifelong consequences
Most previous research has focused on broad surveys and physical punishment – NZ parents favour relatively negative disciplinary techniques (Ritchie & Ritchie; Maxwell)
Need for better parent education and support in context of legal change in NZ
Little knowledge of the challenges parents face in using discipline in everyday contexts
What do New Zealand families with preschool age children believe about appropriate disciplinary practices for children?
What are the range and typical uses of discipline in New Zealand families?
How are family disciplinary practices influenced by context and events over time?
What type of support (if any) do families receive in their parenting with young children?
Summary of findings:
Majority of parents use authoritative or mixed approach (ie sometimes they are permissive)
Positive methods (rewards, praise and reasoning) more commonly used than negative methods (smacking or shouting). Timeout the most common punishment.
No enthusiasm for physical punishment.
Own experience of parenting important – but can be rejected.
Books and TV hugely important source of info and support.
Family and friends important supports but also early childhood teachers (other professionals less mentioned)
From the American Counselling Association. Sponsored by the ACA Foundation
NO parent enjoys constantly warning or threatening his or her child, yet many children do seem programmed to drive mum and dad crazy, at least some of the time. So how can parents encourage good behaviours without shouting themselves hoarse?
Our usual reaction to a misbehaving child is often toward the side of anger, focusing on the negative and warning, ordering or threatening the child to behave.
Sometimes we issue warnings and threats before the child has misbehaved. A young child may be told: “If you don’t behave at grandpa’s birthday party today, you’ll be sorry,” while an older child might be threatened with: “Forget to turn in one more homework assignment and you’re grounded for a week!”
Studies find such warnings, threats and punishments are generally not very effective in modifying behaviour. Yes, a loudly yelled order may halt the immediate misbehaving, but it seldom makes a long-lasting difference in how your child acts.
Researchers find rewards are more effective in terms of achieving desired behaviours. This shouldn’t be surprising. As adults, we don’t like being lectured, threatened or punished, but often work harder and look forward to opportunities to do well, be recognised and reap a reward for our efforts. We all perform better when we feel good about ourselves.
Children respond in the same way. For young children rewards that immediately follow the desired behaviour are most effective simply because delayed gratification is too abstract for a young child’s mind to grasp. Older children, however, are able to look forward to something promised.
Rewards can take a variety of forms. While it can be something tangible, like a new book or CD, effective rewards can also cost nothing. Catch your child in the act of doing something positive and compliment him or her. Or pay more attention to that school work and offer praise when real effort is being shown. Sincere compliments and praise really work, and so do rewards like spending extra time with your child for a special activity, or just granting extra play or TV time for doing well.
Rewards shouldn’t be bribes, but rather a means to encourage positive behaviours so that they become long-term behaviours. To help that happen, don’t reward constantly, since that just makes the rewarding less meaningful. And remember to reward positive efforts, not just final outcomes. Trying hard counts as much as succeeding.
Use rewards correctly and you’ll find that they can be much more effective, and pleasant, than constant shouting, threatening and punishments.
“The Counselling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counselling Association. Learn more about the counselling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.
Dr Joan Durrant offers us this very watchable 10-minute digest of Positive Discipline, her 356 page manual covering establishing goals, providing warmth and structure, understanding how children think and feel, problem solving, and responding with positive discipline.
Watch in particular the first few minutes of the second video, which describe a positive parenting approach to dealing with traffic — exactly the situation which Jimmy Mason was faced with in the recent “face-punching” trial.
On 19 May 2009 a Christchurch father was found guilty of assaulting his son by flicking his ear and punching him in the face. While there has been a lot said about whether the father would have been prosecuted and found guilty under the old law, or should have been prosecuted at all, there has been no examination of case from a parenting perspective.
Dr Joan Durrant, in her book, Positive Discipline: What it is and how to do it, tells us that positive discipline is a way of thinking that focuses on identifying long term goals for children, providing warmth and structure, understanding how children think and feel and teaching problem solving. Key long term goals include encouraging the development of self-discipline and learning to take responsibility. A parent’s role includes guiding the child’s behaviour and modelling appropriate behaviour.
Were the Christchurch children shown by the father what he expected of them at the park and were safety issues explained and demonstrated to them? We don’t know. When the children behaved in a risky fashion and were “corrected” did they understand why their father was so angry? What did they learn from the experience? Perhaps just that when you are really angry its ok to hurt someone. Were they better informed about how to keep themselves safe in the future? Did they feel secure in their relationship with their father? These are relevant questions to ask ourselves when we think about how to respond to our children’s behaviour.
So what does the law really allow me to do as a parent?
Everything you need to do, as long as it doesn’t include using force for the purpose of correcting or punishing your child. Here’s the actual wording of the law:
Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of:
(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.
Parenting can never be strictly ‘hands off’ and as you see the law is very clear parents are totally free to keep their kids safe, out of trouble and to go about normal tasks of parenting and caring for their children.
Sometimes parenting is a hands on process – you hang on to get them into their nappies or out of their coats, you remove them from tormenting the cat or their younger sibling. Imagine all the scenarios that are part of parenting a child, but take away the whacks and wallops. The whole intent of the law:
‘to make better provision for children to live in a safe and secure environment free from violence by abolishing the use of parental force for the purpose of correction.’ Elsewhere on this site you’ll find background information on positive discipline as well as tips on positive parenting.
Chief Commissioner Dr Jan Pryor responded today to a statement from Family First NZ which suggested that immigrants to New Zealand were confused about this country’s child discipline law. “Family First has selectively used a few small quotes from our Settling In report on how immigrant families adjust to New Zealand culture,” Dr Pryor said, “but Mr McCoskrie should have read further. The report also says very clearly that families realised their new environment in New Zealand had created a need for other ways of solving problems and that this had already changed their family relationships for the better.”
Dr Pryor said the report showed that parents are willing to learn new and better ways of approaching the issue of discipline in their families. Improving education and support for parents is a better answer.
“Healthy, positive relationships within families do not involve people hitting each other and the Commission continues to believe that repeal was one step that, combined with other nationwide efforts to address violence, will help us become a violence-free society. “Confusion is a poor excuse for throwing out a good law, rather is shows more effort is needed to improve public understanding.”
The law change did not introduce any new criminal offence. The offence was, and always has been one of assault; and police continue to investigate allegations of assault on children and prosecute only those where they believe the assault is serious enough to take to court.
Police say that since the law was introduced there has been no significant increase in the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions or other activity related to smacking or minor physical assaults against children.
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