Posts Tagged research

Smacking – “It’s wrong, full stop” say children

June 23, 2009

Media release: Barnardos New Zealand             23 June 2009

“It’s bad that they are smacking them. It’s good that they are disciplining them but they shouldn’t be hitting them really hard. Maybe they could send them to the corner”

11-year old girl who participated in the What’s Up survey.

The debate around the Referendum ’09 on physical punishment has been widely debated by adults but who is listening to the voice of those who are at the centre of this debate – the children?

As New Zealand’s largest telephone helpline for children and young people, 0800WHATSUP provided an opportunity for children and young people to express their views about physical punishment and whether or not adults should be able to claim a legal defence if charged with assaulting a child.

“The initial results from the survey show that the majority of callers (more than 55 percent) do not think parents taken to court for hitting a child should be let off if they say they were disciplining the child”, says Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos New Zealand.

“Despite this, comments from the children and young people who participated in the survey suggest many children are conditioned to expect and accept physical discipline from parents. Importantly, many of the callers suggested that parents should be let off with a warning or community service if they perpetrated low levels of violence against children”.

“This is how the child discipline law is working in practice. Parents are not being prosecuted for lightly or occasionally smacking a child, only serious levels of violence are being prosecuted”.

“Barnardos welcomes the sample of results in the survey that provide valuable insights into the views of children and young people about physical punishment. We are pleased that What’s Up has done this survey, giving children and young people the opportunity to express their point of view about a subject matter that affects them most in Referendum ’09”, concluded Mr Edridge.

Download the full report.

The telephone survey was conducted from 27 April to 10 May and was successful in eliciting a large proportion of meaningful votes and comments, with a response rate of around 10%. What’s Up continues to invite children and young people to express their point of view on the matter of “smacking” until the referendum closes on 21 August.


Uschi Klein, Communications Advisor
DDI (04) 382 6717
Mobile 027 228 3088
PO Box 6434, Wellington

Baldock balks when asked for proof

June 19, 2009

Recently Napier City Councillor Maxine Boag was a guest on Newstalk ZB following commentator Dr Robin Gwynn the previous day on the same topic. This is a transcript of her two-minute thought for the day.

“Good morning, I’m Napier City Councillor Maxine Boag.

This week I received a flyer with a figure looking like an orange plastic ginger-bread man asking the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

My first reaction was: “What a dumb question!”

It’s like that old set-up question: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” In which case a “yes” answer shows you have been beating her, and a “no” is an admission that you are still beating her.

But this dumb question is what we’re being asked to vote on in a postal ballot in July. It has been prompted by a nationwide petition that was launched in response to the 2007 [changes to the] Child Discipline law. At the cost of $9 million to taxpayers, this poorly-worded referendum has been criticised by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, both of whom saying that they will not be voting in it, with the National-led government saying they will not be changing the law regardless of the outcome.

The question is very misleading.

First of all, many of us believe that a smack is not part of good parental correction. So if you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ you are still agreeing that a smack is good parental correction. A recent study of pre-schoolers’ parents in Otago showed that only a tiny minority of parents  actually thought smacking was a good thing for them to do, and just 9 per cent thought smacking was effective in disciplining their children. Most parents said that smacking was more to do with their own state of mind, their tiredness and frustration, than the child’s behaviour.

Secondly, since the 2007 child discipline law, the use of a “smack” has not made any parents criminals. No parents who occasionally smack lightly are being prosecuted. So if you say ‘yes’, you are saying anyone smacking their child will be considered criminals, when they’re not. If you say ‘no’ you again buy into this lie.

I heard the organiser of the petition, Larry Baldock on the radio just yesterday being asked if he could give a single example of where a parent has been criminalised for smacking a child and he couldn’t!

I rest my case.

It made me think back to my own primary school days, when I was strapped often, always for talking.

Did it work?

Did it shut me up?

I’ll leave the answer for you to decide.

I’m Maxine Boag, and that’s my thought for today.”

Audio: Nine to Noon interviews Prof Anne Smith, Murray Edridge and Bob McCoskrie

June 16, 2009

Kathryn Ryan interviews Prof Anne Smith, Murray Edridge, and Bob McCoskrie on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme this morning.

Anne Smith is Professor Emeritus at Otago University’s College of Education, and discusses her research on child discipline that shows that less than 10% of parents feel that smacking is effective; she says that most of the parents involved in her study that smacked their children regretted it afterwards, and that the smacking had more to do with the parents’ state of mind, tiredness, etc than the child’s behaviour.

She also discusses parents’ reaction the current law.  In her study, 47% supported the current Child Discipline Law, 27% were against it, with the rest undecided.

Prof Smith said that only a tiny minority of experts believe that smacking is effective, and that the present law is working well.

Murray Edridge (CEO Barnardos) and Bob McCoskrie (Family First) comment on the research and the referendum.

NZ Research: Only one in ten parents believe smacking is effective

June 15, 2009

More evidence is emerging that Kiwi parents are favouring positive parenting strategies for disciplining their children over smacking or hitting.

New Zealand is nearing the second anniversary of the law change that gave children the same legal protection against assault as adults.

New information on family discipline practices is being presented tomorrow (Tuesday June 16 2009) in Wellington at the Families Commission annual research seminar.  The early findings are from the second report on a study of 100 families carried out by Otago University researchers Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith.  The report, funded by the Commission, will be published in a few months.

Professor Smith said, “In our research four out of ten of the parents said that they occasionally smacked their children. However, less than one in ten felt it was effective.”

In contrast, timeout, which was the most commonly used disciplinary strategy was thought to be effective by four out of ten parents.

“Parents who had been brought up being whacked as children were often determined to do it differently and had moved away from smacking their own children.”

Professor Smith said the parents in the study were much less accepting or supportive of physical punishment than those in studies done ten and 20 years ago.  These latest findings agreed with a 2008 survey done funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission, Dr Jan Pryor, says the repeal of Section 59 sent a clear signal that hitting children was not acceptable and this study shows attitudes appear to be changing.

“Consistent parenting strategies which use rewards, distraction and consequences such as timeout are proven to be more effective at teaching children self discipline than physical punishment.

“The law is working well, parents are not being criminalised for trivial offences and there is growing understanding and use of positive parenting strategies,” she said.

Report: Physical punishment of children is not effective in improving behaviour

June 12, 2009

The Centre for Effective Discipline released a report late last year entitled “Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research tells us about its effects on children“.

The report synthesizes one hundred years of social science research and many hundreds of published studies on physical punishment conducted by professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, social work, and sociology, among other fields.

The research supports several conclusions:

  • There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

Download the report.

Parenting Tip: Encourage your children to take naps

June 9, 2009

Napping may have a significant influence on young children’s daytime functioning, according to a research paper presented at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Results indicate that children between the ages of 4 and 5 who did not take daytime naps were reported by their parents to exhibit higher levels of hyperactivity, anxiety and depression than children who continued to nap at this age.

Previous studies have linked not enough or poor sleep to symptoms of hyperactivity, anxiety and depression. Researchers in this study were happy to show the potential importance of napping for optimal daytime functioning in children, as napping is often overlooked in favor of nighttime or total sleep.

Families Commission to run research seminar

May 19, 2009

The Families Commission will run an all-day research seminar series on 16 June at the Wellington Convention Centre.

The programme includes presentation of the results of recently completed projects and progress reports on studies underway. This is an opportunity for researchers, practitioners, policymakers and other interested groups to come together and discuss issues of significance for families.

Of particular interest to followers of  Child Discipline issues is the presentation on “Family Discipline in Context” at 4.00pm.  The abstract reads:

Family discipline in context – Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith
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.

For more information, you can download the invitation (PDF), abstracts (PDF), and programme and registration form (Word doc).  Be sure to RSVP by 2 June.

Miriam McCaleb: Early relationships really matter

May 14, 2009

I’m an adult who has spent years learning about child development and … well, OK, obsessing a little about research. About new findings in neuro-imaging technologies, how our increasing understanding of early brain development interacts with what we know of attachment theory and how all of this reinforces the idea that early relationships have implications across the lifespan.

Early relationships really, really matter. The relationships surrounding children hold implications for the sort of brain architecture we’ll be living amongst thereafter.

The adults in relationship with young children are doing a tremendous amount to not only build their brain connections, but to form their understanding of partnership, of power & pleasantries.

So, let’s review. Hitting, smacking, spanking children helps them to understand partnership … how?

Hitting children demonstrates that the Person With Power may physically hurt the Person Without. It teaches children that their adults sometimes lose it. It involves lower-order thinking (training, like a dog) instead of engaging higher-order thinking (doing the right thing because of an understanding of implications).

As the parent of a vocal, determined and intelligent child, I understand what it is to feel so frustrated by the sassiness that I’ve wanted to hit. Oh, I’ve heard that siren’s call.

I feel that frustrated more often than I care to admit. But I have never hit my child.

I won’t do it because hitting her would be an expression of my anger more than a response to my child’s behaviour.

I won’t do it because I understand that it is my lower brain – my mammalian brain – commanding those desires. My higher brain, my human brain, my beautiful juicy cortex, acts as a filter for desires.

My cortex holds all my cognitive understanding of the ineffectiveness of smacking as a tool for behaviour change and relationship enhancing.

My lovely cortex is the home of my understanding of long-term consequences: that I would feel utterly wretched if I hit my child. Probably for years.

My cortex also houses a variety of strategies for keeping calm, and for dealing more effectively with misbehaviour.

So even if I sometimes want to, I won’t hit because it’s an ugly, base, short-term solution to a temporarily challenging situation with the most precious person in my world.

So to all those mystifying people who are fighting for the right to be able to hit your children: I ask that you please spend the time instead learning some new strategies for dealing with your anger.

Miriam McCaleb is the brain behind She has studied brain function in the USA, and is a certified trainer for PITC – the Program for Infant/Toddler Care.

Social Policy Journal addresses child discipline issues

May 11, 2009

Two articles published in a recent issue of the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand (Issue 34, July 2008) will be of interest to people concerned about child discipline issues.

The first article, Just who do we think Children are? New Zealanders’ Attitudes about Children, Childhood and Parenting: An Analysis of Submissions on the Bill to Repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, is by Sophie Debski, Sue Buckley and Marie Russell. The researchers analysed a sample of the submissions to Parliament on the bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961, and used two known social viewpoints of children. In one viewpoint, childhood is seen as a phase of development and children are regarded as unable to reason and in need of constant guidance from adults – in other words, they are seen as “human becomings”. In the second viewpoint children are seen as full human beings entitled to full human rights and capable of contributing positively to society at all stages of their development – in other words, children are seen as “human beings”.

The researchers found that submitters to the select committee who saw children as “human beings” were more likely to support the 2007 law change than those that regarded children as “human becomings”.

The second article by Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith, A place where it’s not ok to hit children, looks at how professionals approach the task of communicating, guiding and advising families with young children about disciplinary issues. They found that parents sought advice on discipline, and that most professionals disagreed with the use of physical discipline but expressed caution about telling parents that they thought smacking was harmful. The research was conducted before the law change and it is possible that professionals now have an added challenge – how to tell parents about the law change.

A major implication of both these pieces of research is the need to continue to raise public awareness about child development, positive child discipline and the law.

Insights: Children and young people speak out about family discipline

May 8, 2009

Insights [download PDF] is a Save the Children commissioned study into children’s perspectives on family discipline. The findings of the study, conducted by child advocate Terry Dobbs, show an alarming rate of physical punishment used in ordinary Kiwi families and supports the current Child Discipline Law. The research was launched in 27 September 2005 prior to the law reform that made New Zealand the first English speaking country in the world to have banned the physical punishment of children. The findings published in Insights are still very relevant today – and send a strong message to parents that physical punishment does not work.

More than nine out of ten (92%) of the 80 children aged between five and 14 years interviewed for the study said they had been or that they believed children were smacked. Some reported being hit around the face and/or head and with implements and many described it as the first line of discipline the parent used, rather than a last resort.  They reported parents were often angry or stressed when they smacked– and would later express regret or offer ‘treats’ to compensate. Children said smacking made them feel angry, upset and fearful – and was not an effective form of discipline.

“The information contained in this study is crucial for every parent and caregiver of children in New Zealand,” Save the Children New Zealand executive director Phil Abraham says.

“Children’s voices are often missing from the debate around family discipline and effective parenting. The level of physical punishment reported in the study is shocking and delivers crucial information for the debate around the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. Children need to be listened to in discussions about issues that affect them. They have some important messages which challenge the assumptions of many parents out there”.

The study also found children were more often hit by fathers and male members of the household and were more often physically punished for hurting others.

“This sends a contradictory message to children,” Terry Dobbs says. “Children are told that it is wrong to hurt someone else and yet they are hurt in response to hurting others, this is a confusing message for children”

Children suggested that parents should stop being angry, and talk to children explaining what the child had done wrong before administrating any family discipline, as this would have better outcomes for both children and parents. They said that talking with children about the rules the child had broken would assist the child’s understanding, rather than using physical punishment, which did not. They said using ‘time-out’, having privileges removed or being grounded were more effective means of discipline.

The research formed the basis of Ms Dobbs’s thesis for her Master of Arts in Childhood and Youth Studies, supervised by Otago University’s Children’s Issues Centre.

The children were chosen from 10 different schools – ranging from decile one to 10 – across five geographical locations in New Zealand.

To fit the criteria for the study, the children had to have no known or alleged history of abuse or neglect and sufficient verbal skills to participate in focus group discussions. They were questioned using a storybook methodology about their experiences and understanding of family discipline and their views of the effects of various disciplinary techniques.

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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