What is positive parenting?
“Positive parenting refers to evidence-based parenting techniques that help to nurture and shape children’s social emotional and behavioural development,” explains Ms Southey.
“To achieve positive parenting, it is important that we understand that discipline is different to punishment.
“Discipline is about nurturing, teaching and guiding our children in support of their social, emotional and behavioural development.
“Whereas punishment is about control and obedience and relies upon forcing children to behave in a desired way.”
Ms Southey says that positive parenting is about building a connection with a child, using empathy to teach and guide, with the aim to raise a child who respects the rules without the use of fear.
“Seeing the child as an individual, treating them with dignity and respect, and understanding fundamentals of positive parenting and child development, are essential elements in supporting children’s positive behavioural development,” she says.
The key to positive parenting is not only a parent’s understanding of their child’s development, but also understanding the impact of their behaviour on their child.
“Research has found long-term effects of positive parenting to include healthier brain development, particularly in children up to three years of age, a happier, calmer and more confident child and a reduction in negative social and emotional behaviours,” explains Ms Southey.
She highlights that it is important to remember that it is not about creating a perfect child that will never misbehave or have a tantrum.
“Those are a normal part of childhood as children are naturally expressive, impulsive and learning to understand and control their emotions,” she says.
“Positive parenting is good for both parents and children; children are guided and nurtured as they develop, and parents feel more confident and report having more positive relationships with their children.”
The harm in punishment
Coercive parenting practices use force or external pressures such as threats, yelling, commanding, belittling, excluding or hitting to ‘make’ a child behave in a desired way.
Ms Southey explains that while coercive parenting practices have been the traditional disciplining strategy used, they are on the decline.
“Studies in New Zealand show that parents’ attitudes toward physical punishment are changing over time with just 19 per cent of parents continuing to support the use of smacking, whereas 50 per cent believe there is never a reason to physically punish a child,” she says.
A big part of that is that research has found these practices to be harmful to children and do not produce the desired effect.
“Brain or neurological science has clearly found violent and degrading treatment of children harms the development of the brain and is likely to have long term effects depending on the severity,” Ms Southey explains.
“A large body of research exists on the harms of smacking and has led to smacking, hitting or spanking sitting along the same continuum as abuse and is now defined as an adverse childhood experience (ACE) contributing to immediate and long-term harm of children.
“Harmful consequences of physical and humiliating punishment of children can include exacerbating negative behaviours, loss of confidence, insecurity, and in severe cases, long term anxiety and or depression in children.”
There were parents in the study who reported using coercive discipline strategies, however, they were fewer than in previous studies and they reported using coercive discipline strategies less often than positive discipline strategies.
Ms Southey explains that the key for parents to move away from coercive parenting strategies to positive parenting is connecting to trusted sources of information to understand the benefits of positive parenting for themselves and their children.
“It is never too late to change, especially when it is a change for good,” she adds.