Newsletter Subscription

Regular Updates on Parenting, Happy Children & Emotional Intelligence

  • Latest Articles - Raising Children with Emotional Intelligence
  • New Parenting Blogs
  • Parenting Tips for Happy Children
  • Free Online Seminars
  • Popular Parenting Books & Reviews

Subscribe!

Regular Updates on Parenting, Happy Children & Emotional Intelligence

  • Latest Articles - Raising Children with Emotional Intelligence
  • New Parenting Blogs
  • Parenting Tips for Happy Children
  • Free Online Seminars
  • Popular Parenting Books & Reviews

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Unsubscribe

Proudly Supporting

Proudly Supporting

Children Require Discipline But Not Smacking or The Slap

Will our society ever evolve to declare that hitting a child is wrong?

195
Opinion: article by Professor Kim Oates, Emeritus Professor at Sydney Medical School

"Noone deserves to be hit, let alone a child." "That's just a platitude, a new age bullshit platitude. You need to teach a child discipline and sometimes the discipline has to be physical. That's how we learn what is acceptable and what is not."

This conversation from Christos Tsiolkas's novel The Slap, now a television series which premiered on ABC TV this week, reflects the Australian ambivalence about hitting children.

The debate is not about whether children require discipline. They clearly do. But hitting is not the only method. It is not the most effective and for some children it can have adverse consequences. However, many parents equate hitting with discipline, not aware of more effective, less harmful alternatives: appropriate supervision; teaching by example; rules appropriate to the child's developmental level; setting appropriate limits; withdrawing privileges; using time out and being consistent.

Parental consistency reduces the need for discipline. Australian research shows that inconsistent parenting is strongly associated with conduct problems, emotional disorders and difficulty relating to peers.

Because we learn about parenting from how we were parented, physical punishment is inter-generational, closely related to the adult having experienced it in childhood.

Although many consider it acceptable for adults to hit children for discipline, we consider it unacceptable for adults to hit one another. This causes a dilemma for children who learn from watching and copying their parents. What they learn from being hit is that you can resolve conflict by hitting and inflicting pain to get compliance.

Research now provides clear evidence that harsh physical punishment, and even regular spanking, can lead to emotional and behavioural problems with increased risk for aggression.

An analysis of 88 studies showed physical punishment is related to immediate compliance but also associated with undesirable outcomes including aggression and anti-social behaviour and in adult life, increased risk of violence towards their own children and partners. While physical punishment is unlikely to be the sole cause of these problems, it is a significant contributing factor.

Many parents know that physical punishment is effective in achieving immediate compliance but it is often short lived. Rather than teaching children self-control, it teaches them to avoid the behaviour in the adult's presence.

Even though most children who receive physical punishment don't grow up with negative outcomes this is not a valid reason for its use, particularly when it is less effective than other disciplinary methods.

Australia has seen a slow decline in support for physical punishment. In 2002 the Australian Childhood Foundation found 75 per cent of Australian adults agreed it was sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child, compared with 69 per cent in 2006.

Australia lags behind a list of nations that have taken a stand against physical punishment in the home. Children are now legally protected from all forms of physical punishment in 29 countries including New Zealand.

These nations often began by legislating against physical punishment in schools. Australia is in the incongruous situation of banning hitting children in our schools but allowing it in our homes.

Does legislation against hitting children make a difference? Perhaps not immediately, but it sends a strong message that hitting children is not acceptable and provides a platform on which reforms can be built.

Reasons for lack of legislation in Australia include concern that the public may not support it and that the legislation could not be enforced. Such arguments miss the point. Successful legislation in other countries is not aimed at prosecuting parents but at setting a clear standard of care-giving and sending a clear message that hitting children is not allowed, focusing on public education and support for parents, not criminal penalties.

Will our society evolve to declare that hitting children is wrong? Do parents really want to inflict pain on people they love? Or do they hit them because this is how they were disciplined, not being aware of more effective, kinder methods?

Given that violence against adults, criminals and animals to make them change behaviour is illegal, it is ironic that we still sanction it as an acceptable way to change our children. The only humans it is still legal to hit are the most vulnerable ones, our children.

This article was first published in the National Times Section of the Sydney Morning Herald