New research around positive discipline and the role of educators

Published on Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Last updated on Monday, 22 March 2021

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It’s natural for your under five to exhibit challenging behaviours as they learn, play and grow, but knowing how to respond isn’t always so instinctive.

You might feel conflicted or unsure about the best way to discipline your little darling, but you can rest assured that there are constructive ways to guide, shape and manage your child’s behaviour.

Positive parenting practices enable you to take a caring, sharing approach to discipline, and a new study by Save the Children has investigated different types of discipline, and found that a large percentage of Kiwi parents rely on their early childhood education (ECE) teacher for trusted information about positive parenting methods.

Here, we look at the study in more detail and see what positive discipline means in practice.

How do New Zealand parents feel about discipline?

It’s been 13 years since the ‘anti-smacking bill’ effectively banned the use of physical force to discipline a child, and since then, Save the Children says there’s been a move away from heavy-handed strategies towards a more heart-felt approach.

Their 2018 study found that 50 per cent of parents were totally opposed to using physical force as a form of discipline (up from 20 per cent in 2008), and Save the Children New Zealand’s Research Director, Jacqui Southey says there’s a growing culture of positive parenting in this country.

She says modern day parents are reclaiming the idea of ‘discipline,’ so that it’s associated with nurturing, guidance and learning, rather than misconceptions of obedience, control and punishment.

What does their new study tell us about parents’ discipline practices?

Save the Children conducted their latest study to get a better sense of how Kiwi parents discipline their under fives, and after anonymously surveying 84 parents and interviewing three, they found that the majority of parents used positive practices ahead of coercive discipline responses.

This means that instead of using forceful, negative responses (like threats, commands, yelling ignoring, time out or exclusion), parents are more focused on:

  • Anticipating their child’s needs
  • Allowing time for their child to comply
  • Praising positive behaviour
  • Acknowledging their child’s feelings
  • Communicating expectations
  • Reasoning and negotiating

Ms Southey says this emphasis on, ‘Communication, teaching, guiding and being caring, responsive and engaged with your child’ helps to create better outcomes for them and reduce harm – as long as parents are able to get quality information about positive parenting methods.

Where are parents finding information about positive parenting practices?

Although most parents want to use positive parenting methods, this study suggests that some parents are struggling to find accurate information, and a lot of parents feel uncertain when looking for ways to handle their little one’s more challenging behaviours.

Many of the surveyed parents rely on their friends (96 per cent), partners (95 per cent), grandparents (89 per cent) or Facebook (83 per cent) for information, and we’re pleased to report that ECE teachers are a source of information that’s not just popular, but professional, too.

This study found that 87 per cent of parents rely on ECE teachers for information, and importantly, ‘Parents reported ECE teachers as their most trusted and frequently used source of professional support.’

According to the study, parents engage with their ECE teacher as a professional information source more often than their GP or Plunket nurse, and it’s interesting to see that:

  • 18 per cent of parents engage with their ECE teacher as an information source every day
  • 32 per cent engage with their ECE teacher on a monthly basis
  • Mums and dads both engage with their ECE teacher regularly
  • Māori parents were most likely to engage with their ECE on a weekly or monthly basis, and
  • A small percentage of mums (9%) say they never engage with their ECE teacher

How can ECE teachers help with positive discipline?

ECE teachers have experience dealing with lots of different challenging childhood behaviours, from biting to tantrums to jealous outbursts, so if you have any particular concerns, or are simply interested in positive parenting strategies, you’re encouraged to speak with your child’s educator and engage with them as a source of knowledge and experience.

Your ECE teacher will be able to share ideas and strategies they’ve been using with your child, and they can also point you in the direction of quality information.

Regular communication with your ECE teacher will build a genuine partnership, and you can work together to find ways to discipline your child collaboratively, consistently and kindly.

These expert tips will also help you stay calm and connected in the face of parenting challenges.

Good luck!


Scoop Education

Further reading It is possible to prevent the ‘terrible twos’

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