Behaviour

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'A little tap never hurt anyone'

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DISCIPLINE METHODS: The 'anti-smacking' law came into effect in New Zealand in 2009.

New Zealand is among a growing number of countries around the world where physical punishment of children is against the law.

When the law took effect in New Zealand in 2009, many parents had already made the decision not to smack. But some of us know people who still occasionally use smacking or physical punishment - it can be hard to know what to say when the subject comes up.

SKIP Manager and positive parenting advocate Elizabeth Goodwin comments on eight of the most common ways people justify use of physical punishment.

"I was smacked and it never did me any harm"

Research shows that smacking might work in the short term, but eventually becomes less effective, and can lead to more aggressive behaviour. Abuse is frequently the result of physical punishment that, over time, escalates into violence.

"It's the only way they'll learn"

Brain development research confirms that children learn best without stress and when they are shown or told how to do something. Physical punishment teaches children it's ok to hit someone else if you're bigger than they are.

"Kids are always pushing the limits - if you don't control them they'll control you"

Sometimes it does seem like children do try to control their parents. If there are no consistent rules in place, a child will keep testing to find the security of a boundary, leaving parents feeling increasingly powerless. But this doesn't mean they need to be controlled through fear of physical punishment. It's more effective to set a few important rules that everyone understands and can follow.

If there are clear boundaries and consistent consequences for breaking the rules, children soon learn how far they can go. Sometimes it takes time and patience, but if the rules set are reasonable children will accept them, feel more secure and behave better as a result.

"What that child needs is a good hiding"

Nobody needs to be hit and least of all children. A good hiding will physically hurt a child and damage their relationship with their parents. It can take a long time for a child to stop being scared of their parent if they've been hit. It also makes it more likely that a child will grow up to hit their own children.

"Spare the rod and spoil the child - see, even the Bible says kids need to be smacked"'

This phrase isn't in the Bible. There are references to sparing the rod, which are translated from the Hebrew word shebet which is a shepherd's staff. Rather than used to beat the flock, this was used to guide and keep the sheep safe.

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"They have to learn respect"

Children learn respect by seeing respectful behaviour around them, especially in adults they trust. Children learn from what you do, more than what you say.  Telling a child to respect someone will not work, modelling it will.

"A little tap never hurt anyone"

And if a little tap doesn't work, what's next? A bigger 'tap'? It's better to use strategies that don't have the potential to damage a child or escalate out of control.

"He's my child and it's my choice how I parent"

Parents are responsible for choosing how they parent. But children are small and vulnerable and parents are also responsible for protecting them and keeping them safe from harm.

For more on positive alternatives to smacking, visit www.SKIP.org.nz  or join the conversation at www.facebook/SKIPcommunity

SKIP (Strategies with Kids, Information for Parent)  works with New Zealand communities to support parents. Our aim is that children are safe and nurtured so they can grow into happy capable adults.

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