Smacking — archaic or acceptable?

Is smacking an effective, or even acceptable, means of disciplining your child? Popular opinion is shifting to the negative, and arguments for this stance continue to mount.

One international study, led by Professor Kang Lee, was reported recently in the article, ‘Spare the rod and save the child’. In comparing the performance of children at schools practising physical and non-physical discipline, it was found “the ability to control behaviours, to switch from one task to another, and to plan actions” were all stronger in children raised under positive parental control.

Professor Lee went on to explain that “these skills are essential for a child to succeed in school … and of course in the future, in many job situations.”

So by smacking your child, could you be hindering their opportunities for success in the classroom and beyond?

As a psychologist, I see smacking as outmoded, more often than not a response borne out of frustration and used as punishment rather than to educate or retrain.

To overcome the perceived need to smack children, parents must be more proactive and anticipate where a situation is heading before it deteriorates to the point they feel there is no alternative. A good strategy is to remember that there are far more positive techniques to employ; techniques that provide ongoing reminders that actions have consequences.

I have asked a number of kids whether they would prefer 30 seconds of pain or the denial of certain privileges. They all chose the former, with the primary reason being that the consequences linger long after physical pain subsides. Of course, the psychological consequences of smacking should be paramount.

So, while disciplining your child is certainly an important, and often very necessary, component of successful parenting, physical punishment should be avoided. Instead, consider confiscating phones, banning TV or restricting recreational activities.


Never too soon for a story

While the benefits of bedtime stories are becoming increasingly evident, it seems parents today aren’t dedicating enough time to the age-old tradition.

In the article, ‘Reading becomes the new playtime’, Dr Sharon Goldfeld, pediatrician and board member for the Raising Children Network, discusses international studies which have found reading to kids from an early age can lead to improved educational outcomes.

Dr Goldfeld says the practice aids children’s literacy, brain development and imagination, while also stimulating curiosity. And what’s more, and you can’t start too soon.

“All the research is saying the earlier the better.”

“Letting your baby hear your voice by sharing stories and talking will set (them) up for success later in life when (they are) learning to read”, Dr Goldfeld says.

While the evidence is clear, recent studies in the UK suggest parents just aren’t heeding experts’ advice. While most acknowledge the benefits of bedtime reading, only 43 per cent read to their children every day.

These findings come on the back of studies of five year-olds revealing that 18 per cent have fallen behind the expected level of speech development for their age.

Mrs Jean Gross, educational psychologist and former head of the UK Government’s strategy for boosting primary school achievement, says, “adults lead increasingly busy lives and many are not able to spend as much time talking to their children as generations before”.

But, as busy as modern life may be, it’s integral not only to your children, but also your children’s children, that you spend as much time talking and reading to your kids as you can.

As Mrs Gross suggests, “If we have a generation who have not themselves been read to, they are not going to do it when they are parents.”


Think positive!

At Edworks, we know positive affirmations are integral to developing a child’s confidence and self-belief. Parents, too, should be offering their children positive affirmations every day. Some simple tips to remember are:

  1. BE POSITIVE! Focus on your child’s successes, rather than their failures.
  2. NO BUTS! Next time your child shows you a piece of schoolwork and asks for an opinion, try to avoid the “but” – that is: “This is great, but…”
  3. IT TAKES THREE! Try to say three positive things to your child per day. It’s surprising how long many parents will go without offering a positive affirmation.

The benefits of brain training

I’m sure I’d get little argument in suggesting that sporting ‘bad boys’ occupy more than their fair share of space in our newspapers these days. However, this article, published in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, is far more worthy than most.

In summary, it discusses a US study that has identified distinct psychological differences between well-behaved, and not-so-well-behaved athletes.

In a study of 60 elite sportspeople, forensic psychologist, Jeffrey Pfeifer, found that those with histories of crime had little experience making decisions in their earlier lives.

These subjects had problems recognising the feelings of others, lacked self-control, were overly self-centred and believed they would never get caught behaving badly.

So the idea for parents is simple — allow your children to start making decisions for themselves today. Now I’m not suggesting you ask your four-year old whether he’d like to sit the Melbourne High entrance exam in nine years’ time. Basic, everyday decision-making is what should be encouraged. For example:

  •       Do you want a half a glass, or a full glass of milk?
  •       Should Isabella come over before or after lunch?
  •       Should we take an umbrella on our walk?

By regularly posing these sorts of questions, you will effectively be training your child’s brain to be discerning and comfortable making decisions. The potential long-term benefits, as the study suggests, can be dramatic … and he/she certainly doesn’t need to be the next Chris Judd or Sam Stosur to be eligible for them.

Responsibility. Recognition. Rewards.

You may have seen the article, ‘Rough play is good for children’ in the Herald Sun recently. In summary, it suggests over-protective teachers are robbing children of opportunities to develop important life skills.

The fact is, teachers are placed under growing pressure from parents to ‘bubble-wrap’ kids. The result? Kids’ life experiences are greatly diminished.

As a psychologist, I believe we can foster success in children by encouraging them to take risks and accept the consequences of their actions, both positive and negative. Schools, therefore, must afford students the opportunity to take measured risks in the playground.

It’s all about giving children control, and putting them behind the ‘steering wheel’ of life. Just as kids need to experience the rewards of hard work, they need to experience how to cope with failure, criticism and rejection. It is through such experiences that they will develop and grow into mature, independent adults with a complete repertoire of life skills and experiences to draw upon.

As a parent, consider whether you provide your child with an environment in which they are encouraged to take risks.When was the last time you:

  • Made an excuse for your child not completing a project or homework?
  • Made an excuse for your child being late or away from school?
  • Intervened in a problem that s/he should have solved?
  • Let your child justify his/her actions to a friend, an adult or a teacher?
  • Encouraged your child to partake in something where success was not guaranteed?

The next time you feel the urge to jump in and take control, think of the long-term benefits that life experiences will provide.

Are family meals a thing of the past?

For many modern families, the old custom of sitting around the dinner table and catching up on each other’s day has been abandoned. In the face of work deadlines, football training, piano lessons, housework and other commitment this simple communal pleasure is often overlooked.

It is important, however, that we create these opportunities as often as possible. The benefits, as you’ll read in the article below, are too significant to ignore.

Time aside, the other challenge many parents face at meal times is getting their children to contribute to conversations. So, what are some questions that might get them talking? We’ve compiled this list for a little inspiration.


  • If you could invite anyone in the world to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
  • If you had a time machine, what year would you travel back to and why?
  • What one modern luxury could you not live without?


  • If you were the Prime Minister for a day, what three things would you do?
  • How can we be more environmentally friendly around the house?
  • What can be done to help the issue of youth homelessness in Australia?


  • What was your favourite family holiday?
  • What was the most important day of your life?
  • What is your first childhood memory?

To ensure the spotlight is shared around and parents aren’t always dictating proceedings, it can be a good idea to have one family member ‘in charge’. Rotating each mealtime, this person chooses the topics for discussion and makes sure everyone is getting involved.

Check out the article, ‘The 5 Benefits — and a Few Risks — of Eating Together at the Dinner Table’, and learn more about the magic of family meals.

Family history and parenting

‘You sound just like your mother!’ is an observation we often find cuts too close to the bone. If the truth be known, many of us have made the connection ourselves, but have been too embarrassed to admit it.

So why is it that we find ourselves instilling the same values into our children that we had instilled in us, to the point of repeating the very same phrases when disciplining our children? For most of us, it’s the convenience of drawing upon our own childhood experiences. We have a set paradigm from which we automatically draw and find it difficult to see beyond that range.

More importantly, then, how do we overcome our reliance on the automatic responses we have developed? These tips are designed to help you implement a more contemporary, considered approach to parenting.

  • Give your role as a parent some thought. Sit down when you aren’t actually parenting and review what it is you want to achieve. Write down a list of basic goals/ outcomes and values that you want to develop with your child. You can draw upon your family’s history, culture and experiences.
  • Acknowledge that you can incorporate new goals and values that were not part of your childhood and family experience. For example, some of the attitudes to relationships and work that were important to your parents will no longer be relevant in today’s society.
  • Don’t be afraid to review your values and beliefs. Once you establish a core set of values, don’t feel that they cannot or should not change with society.

Of course, as a parent, your decisions will at various times be challenged and critiqued quite ruthlessly. When a situation out of the ordinary does arise that requires you to respond, try to step back and assess yourself as you work through a resolution. This will allow you to refer back to the goals/values that you established at the outset and direct your energies to maintaining those.