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A new study released today shows Kiwi parents predominantly use positive discipline to guide and shape their children’s behaviour – but some struggle to find quality information.  


The study – Understanding the positive discipline practices of parents of children aged one-five years in Aotearoa New Zealand – from Save the Children New Zealand’s Research Director Jacqui Southey looks at how Kiwi parents discipline their under-five-year-old children and how they are informed in their choice of strategies. Eighty four parents from around New Zealand voluntarily took part in the anonymous online survey, while three parents also participated in one-on-one interviews. 


“Despite ongoing scrutiny around how parents discipline their tamariki and criticism about what parents shouldn’t do, little is known about the positive strategies parents use and why they choose the practices they do,” says Jacqui Southey. 


The study comes 13 years after the repeal of Section 59 – commonly known as the anti-smacking bill – which effectively banned the use of physical force for discipline by parents and caregivers. But, while the law change was effective in telling parents what not to do, Ms Southey says gaps remain around effectively educating parents about positive parenting strategies.   


“New Zealand’s law change was progressive and has been instrumental in creating culture change (a 2018 study showed 50% of parents were completely opposed to using physical force against children as a form of discipline compared to just 20% 10 years earlier). 


“But the job is only half done. All parents need quality information around positive parenting methods if we’re going to create better outcomes for our tamariki and reduce harm to children.” 


Ms Southey says growing a culture of positive parenting in Aotearoa means reclaiming the idea of ‘discipline’ back to its origins of nurture, guidance and learning and away from misconceptions of obedience, control and punishment.


“The study showed a number of parents struggle to find accurate information and while the majority of parents want to use positive practices, many feel uncertain when looking for ways to deal with their children’s more challenging behaviours. Generally, parents rely on their friends (96%) or their partners (95%) and own parents (89%), ECE teachers (87%) or turn to Facebook (83%) for information. Parents reported ECE teachers as their most trusted and frequently used source of professional support.” 


The study explored coercive discipline responses (such as threats, commands, yelling, ignoring, time out or exclusion) against positive practices (such as anticipating the child’s needs, allowing time for a child to comply, praise for positive behaviours, acknowledging child’s feelings, communicating expectations, reasoning and negotiating. The majority of the parents used positive practices ahead of coercive discipline responses across the board. 


Says Ms Southey: Coercive practices exist upon a scale of force and are more likely to have a negative impact on children, and potentially also the parents, whereas positive practices involve communication, teaching, guiding, and being caring, responsive and engaged with your child. 


“Reaching parents with positive parenting information early in their journey of parenting is important in establishing these practices, supporting the experience of parents and the positive development of tamariki.” 


The research, supported by Save the Children, is part of a Master of Education for Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka.


The full report can be found here: