Smacking is not okay
What we see in the mirror is what we can expect our children to be. Is the person we see angry, stressed, depressed or tired? Do we talk to our children, give them our time and love, and look after ourselves? What we are is what our children can become, because our children learn behaviour from us. If we hit our children, they are likely to hit their children. Children who live in abusive families are more likely to be aggressive and violent.
Most of us will have seen the Oranga Tamariki campaign aimed at "breaking the cycle". The child sits in his high chair as the parents argue and abuse each other. And the youngster who is yelled at for spilling the milk throws the stone through the glasshouse. When children are brought up in this kind of environment, they will believe that such behaviour is normal. They will believe that when you're angry and upset, you can hit out. We can break the cycle by changing the way we act and react with our children. Our own behaviour can give them positive messages that reinforce their confidence and self-worth, and it is more likely they will continue those positive messages with their children.
Good parents – those who provide a caring and loving environment for their children – have nothing to fear from the law change designed to keep kids safe. It will not make criminals out of parents who lightly smack their children or who use physical intervention to stop children from hurting themselves or others. Despite the hysteria in some quarters, parents will not be (and have not been since the law changed) prosecuted for physically stopping children from causing a disturbance, or for picking them up and putting them in their room to “chill out”.
For good parents, it’s business as usual. The new legislation is aimed not at penalising caring parents, but at keeping kids in our country safe by reducing the violence against them. It is one part of a strategy that must stop the woeful record of family violence in New Zealand. Violence is not an effective form of child discipline. The effects can have far-reaching consequences for our children, and for their future as adults. There are alternatives to hitting as a form of correction, see elsewhere on our website for effective ways to do this without violence.
The Children’s Commissioner says the law sets a standard that is consistent with what we know about helping children to behave well and with the goals of child discipline. In an excellent booklet called Choose to Hug, the Office of the Commissioner for Children says that research shows it takes time for children to learn how to behave in socially acceptable ways. One of the goals of raising a child is to make behaving well something a child chooses to do because it is part of who they are, rather than something done because they fear punishment. It is about learning self-discipline, the Choose to Hug booklet says. Indeed, learning self-discipline extends through adolescence and even into adulthood.
There are many things a parent can do to help this process – positive actions that help the child feel safe, loved and guided. Smacking and hitting are not part of these actions. Smacking children sometimes works in the short term, but it does not contribute to a child developing self-discipline. “When we discipline children we are often trying to get the child to behave well in the short term (for example, to stop kicking the cat) and of course that matters,” Choose to Hug says. “But we should not forget that our ultimate goal is a long-term one. We want children to develop self-discipline and to grow up to be caring, confident and respectful people (who avoid hurting animals because they know it is wrong and they care about animals).” New Zealand should be known as a place where “hitting is not OK” – and that applies equally to children as it does to adults.
Hitting does not work
In New Zealand, hitting a child is still seen by many parents as a legitimate part of parenting. The recent amendment to section 59 of the Crimes Act removed the defence of “reasonable force” for people who discipline their children by hitting them. However, a study by the Office of the Commissioner for Children showed that 2% of a random sample of more than 300 parents said they had given their child "a really severe thrashing" and 11% reported they had "hit with a strap, stick, or something similar.''
The law does not allow adults to hit each other, it does not allow teachers or others outside the family to hit children, and now children are also protected from hitting within the family. Some groups have actively encouraged hitting as a form of discipline for children, with one group suggesting that children aged seven could safely receive spankings up to 30 times a day with a leather strap. However, welfare agencies throughout New Zealand promote effective alternatives, arguing that hitting does not teach children how to behave, but how to hit. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner says no matter how hard it gets, it’s never OK to hit children.
The commissioner argues that children should have the same protection and dignity as other people in the community. Using physical force teaches children that it is OK to use violence to solve an argument, show anger or influence others. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Oranga Tamariki Service and many parenting and support agencies have plenty of pamphlets and videos that provide practical alternatives to help you resolve tense situations and encourage good behaviour in your children.
This information is of value not just for parents who hit their children, it also looks at ways of encouraging positive behaviour in children and enjoying the role of parenting. It features real parents who talk about their stresses and how they feel about parenting. If there are effective alternatives, why do parents still hit their children? One argument is that physical discipline is swift and encourages instant remorse. However, if it is successful in changing a child's behaviour, the change only occurs because the child is fearful of being hurt.
In some cases, especially small children, they might not even know why they are being hit. If hitting is intended as a lesson, it cannot be effective if children become fearful and resentful. Hitting also tends to have a reduced effect the more it is administered. The more a child is hit, the less effective it becomes, and the more likely it is that a parent will hit harder to get the desired reaction. Hitting is not only a response to a "naughty" child but is also often an outlet for a parent's frustrations.
The stressed parent who is not coping well with work or the lack of it, with a relationship or whatever, can often strike a child without the child having done anything wrong. In some cases, the hitting is sustained and brutal, leading to long-term injury, psychological and emotional harm, and even death. Some of these children are not even old enough to know what the parent considers right or wrong. The alternatives to hitting require patience, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Alternatives to hitting, yelling and put-downs
Hitting a child as a form of discipline or to correct behaviour is not only ineffective and harmful, it is also illegal - just as it is illegal to hit another adult. But hitting is not the only way we can harm our children. We can hurt them with words said in the heat of the moment - swearing, yelling and putting them down as people in their own right. We can also hurt them by fighting and arguing in front of them. Research shows the effects of emotional and psychological abuse can be just as harmful and long-term as physical abuse. In such circumstances, our children grow up to believe that abuse is a means of solving problems. Can we blame them if, when they grow older, they want to take out their frustrations with us in the same way? Many teenagers grow up to abuse their parents, but worst of all, they become adults who repeat the cycle with their children - your grandchildren.
Children are just human beings who have not grown up yet. They have much to learn, and as parents, we can teach them a great deal. We can teach them that some behaviour is not appropriate. We might get them to change their behaviour with hitting and verbal abuse, but this will only make them abusers themselves. Verbal abuse and hitting might change a child’s behaviour, but it will only be through fear. Some of the side-effects for children will be:
- Fear, including fear for others
- A feeling of worthlessness leading to self-criticism
- Self-blame and feeling responsible for being hurt or others being hurt
- Taking it out on others with bullying and other anti-social behaviour
- Anxiety, depression or withdrawal
- A need to act like a parent, caring for other children or parenting the parent
Apart from the fact that the recent amendment to section 59 of the Crimes Act does not allow us to hit children, we have a responsibility to use alternatives. So we must use alternatives whenever possible. The first thing we can do when we are tempted to hit a child is to stop and think about whether it is something the child is doing that’s making us feel angry or upset. The sound of a child playing at the end of the day when we feel exhausted could get on our nerves, but it is not the child’s behaviour that is to blame. If we pause to think first, we might find that the child has nothing to do with how we feel. In such cases, either deal with what is causing you to feel the way you are or take yourself or the child out of harm’s way while you cool down.
There’s a saying in carpentry: “Measure twice, cut once.” In parenting, we might need to think twice before doing something that cannot be undone. If we make a mistake, we must be “adult” enough to admit it and apologise to our children. They will respect us more for it and are likely to have more compassion for us when things get rough. In some cases of misbehaviour, it might even be appropriate to do nothing. We might not like what the child is doing, but if it is not hurting anyone, it might be best to ignore it. Sometimes, children will find out for themselves that what they do is not appropriate. Behaviour can sometimes be self-correcting. If a child fails to put clothes in the laundry, for example, they have only themselves to blame when their clothes are not clean the next day. When we do need to deal with a child’s behaviour:
- Keep calm.
- Recognise that it’s OK to be angry, but focus on the behaviour, not the child.
- Use positive messages, reinforcing what you want them to DO, not what you DON’T want them to do and be clear about the behaviour you want, ie: “Keep your toys in your room”, not “Don’t leave your toys lying around”.
- Tell your child without yelling or screaming. Give the message that the behaviour is bad, not the child. If you want the child to change their behaviour, you will need to provide some guidance. Tell them what they did wrong and what you expect next time.
- Let them do some of the talking and listen to what they say. They might have a good reason to feel they are being picked on.
- Try distraction. Give the child something else to do. Make a game of it and take it to the absurd, ie: “If you had helped do the dishes Dad wouldn’t have hit his head on the sink and he wouldn’t have had to go to hospital and we wouldn’t have had that car crash with the prime minister and then that silly law about putting kids in jail wouldn’t have been passed in Parliament....”
It’s a great way of easing the tension for both of you. If you need to correct behaviour, try emphasising that the behaviour will have consequences, such as withdrawal of a treat or privilege. Be clear about why it is being taken away and for how long, and stick to it. “Time out” might be a useful technique for a child who needs somewhere safe and quiet to calm down and regain control. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner, however, says that often it is parents who need a chance to calm down and regain control while the child is in a safe place. “Time out” should be used with care, and not misused as a form of punishment. In the booklet Choose to Hug, the Commissioner suggests “time out” should never be used:
- as a punishment or threat
- for more than a few minutes at a time
- if there is nowhere safe for the child to be
- if the child is not mature enough to understand why he or she is in “time out”
The following are important guidelines, the booklet says:
- the child should never be locked in
- the child should never be restrained (forcibly put in “time out” or held down in any way)
- a place that should be peaceful and safe for a child (like a bedroom) should never become associated with anger and fear; “time out” should never be used in a way that leaves the child feeling distraught, rejected or abandoned – a small out-of-control child is very frightened and overwhelmed by their feelings
- the child should always understand that they can come back to you for reassurance when they have calmed down
Child safety tips
To help keep your children safe, check your home environment and family safety procedures. About 13,000 children aged under 5 are hospitalised each year because of accidental injuries and poisonings. If you keep your children safe many of these accidents and injuries are avoidable. For example, have you:
- Taught your child not to leave the property without a trusted adult?
- Taught your child to hold an adult's hand when stepping onto the road?
- Fenced the outdoor play area?
- Made sure the garage, driveway and work areas are not accessible?
- Hired a babysitter who is at least 14 years of age and left written instructions, including a contact number (see the section on babysitters).
- Checked safety aspects of your childminder's home or childcare centre?
- Installed safety catches on windows above ground level?
12 general child safety tips:
- Never leave a young child alone while he/she is awake. Check on the child occasionally while they are sleeping.
- Never leave a baby unattended on a changing table, in a high chair, bath or walker. Use safety straps whenever they are available.
- Stay awake so you'll hear the children if they need you.
- Children will likely try you out to see how far you let them go. Be firm in insisting that they play where they will be safe.
- Wardrobes, medicine chests, drawers and storage locations are not proper places for children to play. Also, keep them away from stairways, hot objects, (such as iron, stoves, microwaves and electrical outlets).
- Keep scissors or knives out of sight.
- Keep buttons, pins, cigarette stubs, money, small toy pieces, matches and any other small particles off the floor and out of sight.
- If playing outside, know where their parents allow them to play. Watch for traffic and fire hazards, garden sprays, tools and unfriendly animals.
- Cut food into bite-size pieces for toddlers and preschoolers. Make sure that children remain seated while eating. Avoid foods that are likely to cause a young child to choke such as popcorn, hot dogs, hard candy and grapes.
- Make sure that doors to rooms such as bathrooms, basement and garage are closed.
- Remove plastic bags, bean bags or pillows from cots. These could cover a child's face and cut off breathing.
- Remove any strings or straps that might pose a strangulation hazard to a young child.
- When you bathe children, do it very carefully and never leave the child alone in the bath.
- The water in the tub should be comfortable to touch, not too hot!
- Always run the cold water first. Test temperature three times.
- Keep the bath plug out of reach. One child’s life could be saved each year if everyone did this.
- Use hot tap cover.
- Keep all electrical cords from appliances out of child’s reach.
- Keep all containers of hot liquids well out of a child’s reach.
It is important to have separate play areas when you have a number of children. What is suitable for a five-year-old could be lethal for a toddler. Rule of thumb - If it is small enough to fit into a film canister then it is too small for a child under three years of age to play with. Some tips for child safety:
- Put away toys with objects small enough to swallow when watching a child under age four.
- Put away toys with sharp edges and sharp points as well as toys that shoot objects.
- Look for toys with long strings and chords that may strangle an infant or young child. Put these toys in a place where young children cannot reach them.
- Buy toys suitable for a child’s age.
- Check for warnings and the labelling on toys.
- Develop a system of regular checks for wear, broken pieces and sharp edges.
- Check soft toys and dolls for loose parts e.g. eyes, buttons, and noses.
- Balloons are only to look at, not for baby’s play.
- Small balls, marbles, etc are a choking hazard.
- Keep cots clear of toys, especially for babies.
- Toys that are noisy may affect a child’s hearing.
- Make sure toy boxes have a lightweight lid and can easily be pushed open from the inside. For extra safety, drill ventilation holes in toy boxes.
- Ensure that toys are kept away from traffic areas, especially stairways and doorways.
- Encourage children to put their toys away after play.
- If you have a very young child, get down to their level and check that no small objects are hiding under settees or low tables.
- Remember in all cases - supervision is essential.
- Put away electronic toys that might burn or shock young children.
Remember when you decide to have a family pet you are making a long term commitment to care and responsibility of a dependent member of the family. Think about it carefully. Never impulse buy a pet - seriously consider your reasons. Consider the type of pet suitable for your family.
- If renting - are animals allowed.
- The maturity and temperament of your children.
- The temperament of the animal.
Pets need a loving home, regular food and water, shelter, security, plenty of exercise and a fully fenced section.
- Can you provide the above?
- Financial costs involved: food, vet bills, vaccinations, flea and worming treatments, dog licensing and toys.
- Teach children not to disturb animals when they are eating
- Don’t disturb cats and dogs when they are sleeping.
- Wait for a pet to come to you.
- Teach children how to handle their pets - remember pets are at risk from children who have not been trained.
- Never put your face near your dog.
- Always clean up after your pet, it cannot do this for itself.
- Ensure practice of handwashing after play with animals.
Sometimes children and pets do not get along! But just as there are good and bad ways to behave with people, there are good and bad ways to play with animals. With strange dogs always be alert to signs of aggressive posture in a dog. Erect ears, stiff body and raised hackles (hair on the neck).
Young children especially can receive nasty bites from dogs that are not properly under the owner’s control. If your child is bitten, see if the dog has a collar or tag and take note of the direction the dog went. Wash the bite with soap and water and see your doctor at once. Report the dog to your local authority’s animal control division.
Ten rules for child safety with dogs:
- Never go up to a dog you don’t know.
- If the owner is there, ask permission to pat the dog.
- Don’t stare at a dog. It may see this as a threat.
- Don’t tease dogs. It may make them angry.
- Don’t go near a dog when it is eating. It may think you’re trying to take its food away.
- When going onto a strange property, don’t go in if the dog is growling or barking. Dogs naturally want to protect their property.
- When stroking a dog, rub its chest and don’t place your hand on the back of its neck because the dog may see this as a threat.
- Mother dogs are very protective, so don’t touch the puppies unless the owner is there.
- Do not disturb a sleeping dog by touching it. Wake it up from a distance by making a noise.
- If a strange dog approaches you, act like a tree - stand still. If carrying a bag, or have a bike, put that between you and the dog. Don’t ever lie on the ground to protect yourself. If carrying food, drop it. If a strange dog approaches you and you are lying down, or the dog knocks you down, curl up like a ball and cover your head, then act like a log - lie still. The dog will not see you as a threat, and it should go away after it smells you.
- If you have any problems tell your teacher or parent to report the problem to the council’s animal control officers.
List courtesy of Hutt City Council Animal Control division.
Explain your outdoor rules to children. Your list might include: no pushing other children off a swing or piece of playground equipment, no swinging empty swings, no climbing up the front of the slide, no twisting swing chains, no rough playing on equipment, and only one person can be on a piece of equipment at one time, if it is designed for use by one person.
Children are usually unaware of the risks that are present in playing outdoors. You can teach them to play safe when they are playing outside.
- Keep children from walking in front or back of a moving swing.
- Place young children in the centre of a swing. Make sure that they are capable of hanging on to the swing or place them in a swing designed for infants and toddlers. Keep reminding them to hang on - small children need constant reminding.
- Be extremely cautious of swimming pools, paddling pools, and spas even when a pool has a cover and is fenced in. Keep your eyes on the children at all times. If a child is missing, immediately check the pool to make sure the child has not fallen in it.
- Make sure the gates are locked, and paddling pools are emptied after use.
- Learn CPR and first aid practices in case you might need it when watching children.
- Learn the phone number for emergency medical services in your location.
Get your kids safely home
Teach your child how to get safely to and from school – whether they walk or bike or go by bus. Make some firm, clear family rules. Go to school with your child so that you can show them the safest route. Train them to deal with hazards such as narrow footpaths or busy roads. If they walk, make sure they always use pedestrian crossings.
Who does your child walk home with? Meet the parents of children in your area, and keep in touch. Train the children to walk home together in twos or small groups and not alone. If someone is away, make other arrangements.
It is the parents' responsibility to teach their children about keeping themselves safe. There are good books and videos available. You don't want to frighten your child. Ask the teacher about programmes provided by the school – schools teach many safety programmes, including Keeping Ourselves Safe.
When children are visiting friends after school, always arrange it yourself. Check with the friend's parents before school. In-country schools, tell the teacher, too.
As a parent, you are responsible for your child's safety and well-being. You often need a break from those responsibilities so you need a babysitter you can trust babysitting your child. Right? Unfortunately, not all parents appear to take such precautions.
Cases, where parents have left their children without any proper care, is all too frequent. Under the law, parents and caregivers are responsible for supervising or arranging suitable supervision for children at all times up to the age of 14. Section 10B of the Summary Offences Act 1981 states you cannot leave a child alone without reasonable supervision and care, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable.
It does not mean literally that you must not leave a child aged under 14 alone. It might not be "unreasonable" to leave a child who is, say, aged 13, mature and trustworthy, and where a neighbour is advised that you are out, and in a case where you will not be gone for long. The Police take cases seriously; where children are left for long periods of time - having to cook meals, look after small children and generally fend for themselves.
If you need to leave your children for any time, make sure they are being looked after or looked out for by someone capable and trustworthy. Children are vulnerable and trusting - don't leave them with just anyone. If you have doubts about a neighbour or even a family member, don't use those people as babysitters. When you need to call in a babysitter you don't know, find out something about them first. Invite them over when you are there for the first occasion, so you can introduce the children and get details without having to rush out the door.
Good babysitters are safety-conscious and take extra precautions to make sure the children are safe from accidents. If you need to talk on the phone, make sure you always know where the children are. Make calls short and always be attentive to the children.
Questions to ask yourself before you choose a babysitter:
- Is our babysitter mature enough to deal with more than one child in a crisis situation?
- Does our babysitter have experience in dealing with distressed children when babysitting?
- How long will it take us to return home should there be any crisis that our babysitter is too young to deal with?
- Have we made and practised with our family an escape plan should there be a fire?
- Practising the exit drill (see separate section on fire safety) can be a fun activity for the babysitter and the children.
- Have we listed contact names and numbers for my babysitter? i.e. Doctor, Fire Service, Neighbour, Parents, Ambulance, Police.
- Does our babysitter know where we keep the following items? i.e. Torch, First Aid Box, Telephones, Light Switches etc.
- Have we installed smoke alarms and do we have safety latches on outside doors?
- Have we made sure all hazards i.e. drugs, medications etc are safely stored?
- A young babysitter will not be alert to the dangers many things pose for young children.
- Is it right to give adult responsibilities to a child?
- Make sure they know where they can contact you and what to do in an emergency.
- If any of the children are on special medication, ensure the babysitter knows how to administer it if necessary.
- Make sure the house is secure when you leave, checking all doors and windows.
- Tell the babysitter not to open the door to strangers.
- The babysitter should tell telephone callers that you are not available, not that you are out and that they are alone with the children.
- Be sure the babysitter gets home safely - don't let them walk home on their own in the dark.
Sudden infant death syndrome
Sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death, is the unexpected death of a child that cannot be explained through autopsies and investigations. SIDS claims 80-100 lives every year in New Zealand. However, cot death numbers have reduced dramatically in New Zealand over the past 15 years. This decline is attributed to the findings of the New Zealand Cot Death Study, conducted over three years. The study's aim was to identify risk factors for SIDS. New Zealand was the first country to launch a SIDS prevention campaign in 1991. The main advice given by the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Cot Death Association to prevent SIDS is:
- Do not smoke during pregnancy.
- Avoid smoking in bed with your baby or near your baby.
- Sleep baby on his/her back.
- Breastfeed your baby if you can.
- Give your baby his or her own sleeping place, not in bed with you.
To help your baby sleep soundly, follow these guidelines:
- Put the baby on its back to sleep
- Keep the baby's head uncovered, with the feet to the foot of the cot and with baby's face clear at all times.
- Use a firm, clean, fitting mattress with no gap between the mattress and the cot side.
- Tuck in all bedding securely.
- Never put the baby on a waterbed and pillows.
- Soft toys, loose quilts or duvets are not recommended.
- Keep baby's room temperature about 15-18C.
- Check your baby often.
Firearms and children
New Zealand law requires gun owners to have a firearms licence issued by the Police. Recent incidents have shown how dangerous guns can be in the hands of children.
- Firearms should always be kept out of reach of children.
- Ammunition should be stored separately from the gun.
- The gun should be disabled by removing the bolt or firing mechanism and stored separately.
- Gun owners must have a lockable store for guns at home.
- The firearms must always be locked there unless under the immediate supervision of the licence holder.
- Guns should never be left out unattended.
The Police issue a firearms safety manual which lists seven basic rules for gun owners:
- Treat every firearm as loaded.
- Always point firearms in a safe direction.
- Load a firearm only when ready to fire.
- Identify your target.
- Check your firing zone.
- Store firearms and ammunition safely.
- Avoid alcohol or drugs when handling firearms.
Safety on Halloween
There are always risks when small children are on the streets without adult supervision after dark. These risks can be minimised by careful planning.
Halloween party: Consider celebrating by holding a children’s party in place of trick and treating.
Trick or treating: Take place before dark with an adult accompanying the children. Choose the area carefully, children should only call on homes where the residents are known to you and that have outside lights on indicating that they are expecting you to call.
Pedestrian safety: Supervision is essential. All children should WALK from house to house, staying on the footpaths and be warned against crossing the road from between parked cars or from where they cannot see oncoming traffic. Watch for traffic coming in and out of driveways.
Clothing: Costumes should be close fitting, brightly coloured and short enough so as to avoid tripping. Some tips:
- Decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape, this not only gives a more ghostly appearance but also glows in the beam of cars lights, enabling better visibility to motorists.
- It is advisable for children to carry a torch, to see and be seen.
- Headgear, masks and wigs should be close fitting to minimise the risk of slipping and affecting vision, eyeholes in masks need to be large enough to allow full vision.
- Accessories, swords, knives, wands etc, need to be made from flexible materials.
- Footwear should be sturdy and fitting properly. Avoid high heels (they may look good but could be dangerous on uneven ground)
At home: If using lighted candles, place them away from traffic areas and well away from curtains, decorations, paper streamers and spider webs. Spray string/streamers are highly flammable. Make sure pathways are clear, outside light is on and pets are in a safe place for the children that will visit your home. Have a safe and happy Halloween.
Never leave children in a car without an adult
Do you know that the temperature inside a parked vehicle can be as much as 50% hotter than the outside temperature? Lowering the vehicle windows 5cm does not bring about a dramatic loss of heat.
75% of the increased temperature happens within 5 minutes of closing the vehicle and leaving it. The larger the expanse of glass in the vehicle, the faster the rise in temperature. The colour and size of the vehicle can have a bearing on the rate at which the temperature rises.
- Always carry plenty of drinking water, we suggest that each child has their own drink bottle
- Dress children in lightweight, light-coloured, and loose-fitting clothing - thus enabling airflow around their bodies.
- Check safety belts and harness fitting, this may need adjusting due to wearing lightweight clothing.
- Consider fitting removable sunshades to filter the sun rays, these do not hamper airflow and allow children to travel more comfortably.
- Every 2 or 3 hours, stop and allow children time for play and exercise.
- If travelling with a baby, allow them time on a blanket to move freely.
- Always plan car trips in advance and consider travelling in the early morning or late afternoon when it is cooler.
As the temperature rises a child will begin to suffer hyperthermia and get dehydrated. As the temperature rises so does the humidity and the airflow decreases. Young children are more sensitive to heat stress - the younger the child the faster the onset of dehydration. Hyperthermia, dehydration and asphyxia can all lead to death.
Animals can also suffer heat stress when confined inside a vehicle.
- Before leaving your parked car, remove all clothing, hats and paper products from the rear parcel shelf and the dashboard. Store away from direct sunlight.
- Remove from the car cigarette lighters and any aerosol or LPG canisters. (These have been known to explode and other articles burst into flames.)
Being a parent is an awesome responsibility but one which is enormously rewarding. When people become parents they get a unique opportunity to encourage and inspire a new generation of adults who care about themselves, others and their environment, thereby creating better and safer communities for all. Families, whether big or small, one parent or two are at the core of our society.
Values and attitudes that prevail in homes are the same values and attitudes, which will prevail in our communities. This is why the Police Managers' Guild Trust believe it is important that parents receive positive information that will help them not only become better parents but to also enjoy the experience much more. This information is not intended to be a manual for parenthood, because parenting can never be “done by the book”.
However, it is designed to have many helpful tips, which might help you develop yourselves as a positive role model for children. It might also help you cope with the inevitable stresses that come with parenthood and give you more time to help your children with the care and attention they need and deserve. If we have safe happy families we have safe and happy communities. All parents want their children to grow up in a safe environment.
The Police, welfare agencies and many other groups help to make the community safe for children with education and enforcement programmes, but parents ultimately have the greatest role to play. It offers constructive advice and tips to help parents create a happy, safe home, and perhaps more importantly, it helps parents show their kids how they can act responsibly and be safe away from home.
However, if there is one piece of advice that all parents should take on board, it is simply to talk to our kids. Communication is our most valuable tool. If we spend regular time with our kids and make sure we talk with them, we can understand them better. And they might just get to understand us better.
That is the goal with our community safety/crime prevention campaigns. We all need to “walk the walk” and present positive role models. We can only expect our children to do as we do; not do as we say.
Parenting is also a lot of fun if we allow it to be. Often we feel powerless to change behaviour that we see as “bad”, or we feel frustrated at children who won’t “do what they’re told”.
However, parenting is a responsibility that requires great care and patience, and none of us wants to get it wrong. If we have the fortune or foresight to have a planned child, we have a good start. We can then think about what we are getting ourselves into before committing ourselves. What adjustments will we need to make to our lives? Who is going to look after the child, when modern society often demands that parents must work to survive? Do we really know enough about children to take on this responsibility? And do we know enough about ourselves? Can we cope when life might seem tough already?
Is there a good reason for having a child - it must never be seen as a solution to relationship problems that are already under stress, for example. Even if a pregnancy is unplanned, we can still prepare for the future of our child, so they come into the world loved and wanted. Good planning can reduce some of the inevitable stresses of parenthood.
We can’t get it right all the time
No parent can do everything right all the time. If you have a friend or relative that you admire as a parent, try asking them how they do it. Most likely they will tell you that they don't believe they are doing it right, that they are always having problems with their children in one way or another. All parents want the best for their children. It might seem ironic in the case of a parent who abuses his or her child, but it is simply an extreme example of a parent who gets things horribly wrong. We can love but still cause such terrible hurt to our children - sometimes without realising it. If we want the best for our children, why don't we do our best? Is it because we see our children simply as possessions with whom we can do as we wish? Is it because we don't give them enough time out of our busy day? Is it because we don't talk to them? Are we too "adult" to say that we love them every now and then? It's OK when we try, but still, don't seem to get it right.
The value is in the effort, and the rewards might not be obvious straight away. But a kind word when previously there was a harsh word can work wonders for a child's confidence and the parent/child relationship. We're not alone in the parenting world of hard knocks and we can't spend our lives trying to prove to ourselves or others that we can do it all. Anyway, there is often no "right way", because parents and children are individuals, and have individual needs. What we can do is become more aware of how we can become better parents and begin to apply some useful tips. We can read information such as this and others available from help agencies; talk to other parents, educators, friends and relatives; attend parenting courses, and observe those parents we admire.
With parenting, there are no typically good or bad parents
Good and bad parents exist in all cultures and socioeconomic environments. Money, for instance, does not guarantee better parenting. It just means that the issues are sometimes different. If a child is being neglected in an area of great poverty because parents are out of work, or if a child is being neglected in an area of great wealth because the parents are always at work, the neglect still exists. The result is likely to be the same – a child who will run off the rails. Good parenting is not something that can be bought.
Good parenting is an attitude. It is unconditionally caring for a child simply because you are responsible for that child. It is still caring when the child gets into trouble or is disobedient. Parents sometimes blame their apparent lack of parenting skills on their environment or circumstances. “I have to work all day and I’m tired out at night”; or “I never have the money to do anything for the kids”. The stresses of life are undeniable, but if we want to be better parents and change life for the better for our children, then we must make the change ourselves. It is likely to be a change in us, as parents, that will bring about a change in our children. Try:
- thinking about what you are doing
- thinking about what harm you could do
- putting your child in a safe place if needed
- phoning a friend or someone you trust
- putting on some of your favourite music (preferably calming music)
- thinking about joining a parenting course – it will give you lots of ideas and methods of coping
- figuring out why your child is misbehaving
- hitting a pillow if you’re still mad (out of sight of the child).
If we are struggling to give our children our time and love, we must get help. This is a key message of this crime prevention website. There is no shame in asking for help. Parenting is not easy and no one expects you to do it all on your own. We all need help sometimes - for families who have children with special needs, it might be that we need help all the time. Don't be afraid to ask. There are many agencies, both Government and private, that are available 24 hours a day to help parents. Some organisations have 24-hour phone numbers that you can ring - maybe you just want to get a problem off your chest, or you need to know where you can get further help. There’s a list of these on our website. Your greatest source of help, however, might be someone you know on a more personal level - a friend, relative, neighbour, teacher, or counsellor. They can help you make decisions and give you perspectives that you might not otherwise see.
Children will not be “good” all the time, but we need to ensure they are aware of good behaviour. Be positive when you talk to your children about their behaviour. Take time to think about what your rules and values are and then make sure your child knows them. Tell them why those rules and values are important. Don’t expect your child to follow rules that are not adequately explained. Thank them for their efforts, even if they sometimes get things wrong. Look for things your child is good at and comment on it. Often we fail to see the positive side of children. Recognise that they will sometimes fail to do things right, even when they try hard. It is only a learning process, so be supportive. Never put a child down for trying. Show an interest when good behaviour is happening. Give hugs and smiles. Save the tangible things like lollies and toys for birthdays or other special occasions. Give children confidence in themselves by letting them make some decisions that affect them, ie: “Would you prefer the red dress or the green one today?”
It’s okay to be angry
The strategies outlined on this crime prevention website are not designed to stop you getting angry. Anger is a natural response – a child needs to be aware that some things will make you angry and upset. It is how you manage your anger that is important. Hitting, yelling and being abusive is not a healthy response to bad behaviour. Tell your child that you are angry, make sure they know why you are angry, and make sure they know what you expect from them in future. Direct your anger at the behaviour, not the person. It is not the child that you do not like, it is the behaviour.
Healthy parents, healthy children
If we look after ourselves, we have a greater chance of coping with stress and looking after our children well. Healthy parents, healthy children. If we can balance our own health and wellbeing with other elements of our life such as work, pleasure, relationships and personal growth, we have a good chance of dealing with the challenges that are thrown our way. Are we too busy to look after ourselves? Do we put the balance out of kilter by working too much, for instance, and not devoting any time to ourselves? Again, if this is what we show our children, this is likely to be what they will copy. Do we want them to grow up believing work is all that is important? We must make time for ourselves. If we are bringing up children alone, we especially need time out. Ask friends and family to help look after the children when you need time for yourself - and not just so you can do the shopping or complete chores. Sometimes you will just need a break to relax alone. Keep in touch with friends, join groups and get involved in activities outside the home. If you have a partner, nurture the relationship. Sometimes the best thing a child can have is parents with a stable and loving relationship. Make time for your relationship, as you do for your children. Share the load of parenthood and discuss how you might better cope with the stresses together.
Enjoy parenting and congratulate yourselves regularly for what you are achieving with your children. Share your children's achievements as a family. An Oranga Tamariki booklet called, ‘There are No Super-parents’ suggests parents who feel good about themselves:
- Play with the children and set aside family "happy times".
- Have supportive family members and community networks.
- Have a goal in life.
- Do some sort of regular exercise.
- Have hobbies.
- Get a good feeling when they do well.
- Accept that small mistakes happen from time to time, and learn from them.
- Provide healthy food for their family.
- Look for ways to get the best out of people, instead of concentrating on their faults.
New Zealanders have always been proud of their sporting prowess and "give-it-a-go" attitude. Now more than ever, however, it is recognised that participation in sport and leisure activities is good not only for the individual but also for the community. People involved in regular sport or leisure activities get fit, generally have healthier lifestyles, meet people, find a sense of value in fair play, set goals, enjoy the outdoors. Though time is often limited, it's well worth the effort of joining a local sports group or just getting some regular exercise out walking with a friend. Such activities give you the opportunity to get away from the stresses of home life and help you better cope with them when you get back. Make time for leisure. Work out with your partner how much time you will spend away - and whether it will involve social activities after the game or walk. You might have to compromise so you both have a chance to participate. Think about coaching or refereeing sports teams. Most clubs and organisations will provide training. Consider also social and cultural activities. Expand your mind as well as your skills and self-esteem by joining a local drama group, an ethnic group or a book club. Ask around or visit your local community centre to see what activities are in your area. Making contacts through community or sports groups can be enormously valuable. You will find new friends, perhaps someone to confide in when you need to, someone who might get you a job or one better than the one you are in now… the possibilities are endless.
How to tell if you’re not coping
The Oranga Tamariki booklet, ‘There are No Super-parents’ says it's normal to have bad feelings every now and then. However, when they seem to be taking over, it's time to talk about them and ask for help. The warning signs that tell us it's time to slow down, take a break or ask for help can be:
- If you have more bad feelings than good, and they seem to be lasting longer and getting stronger.
- If you can't face getting out of bed in the mornings - a real dread of coping with the new day.
- If you cry more than usual and you feel confused about this.
- If you have feelings of anger, panic or despair when the baby cries and you feel like you might lose control and hit the child or try to hurt them.
- If you can't think of any fun things to do with the child. You feel too depressed and exhausted.
- If you feel utterly trapped and alone and can't talk to anyone because no one understands.
- If you think the child would be better off without you.
- If you feel anxious and then angry when the baby cries.
- If you and your partner are arguing a lot or fighting.
- If your partner leaves you alone to cope when you have problems with your children.
- If you feel angry when the child dirties a nappy.
- If you feel one of the children is especially bad.
- If you are afraid to be alone with your child.
- If you feel there are times when you can't cope and have no one to turn to.
- If you feel the children demand too much when you get home from work
- If you leave the house when the children are arguing or crying.
Oranga Tamariki also says fathers especially should recognise warning signs such as:
- If you find it hard to show any feelings except angry or sexual feelings.
- If you feel you're only a money machine that must grind on.
- If you'd rather go to the pub than go home and face the kids.
- If you feel it's not your job to help your partner change nappies or do the housework.
- If you feel it's your partner's job to look after the children.
- If you are hitting or hurting your partner or children or finding it hard to control your anger.
- If you always feel frustrated and unimportant after dealing with your boss or other people in power.
- If you feel you have no power over your life.
Alcohol and drugs
Anyone who has been a parent knows it's not an easy task. When things get on top of you, turning to drugs and/or alcohol will not provide the help you need. The effects of drugs and alcohol on your health and the way they affect your judgment are well documented. You are not looking after yourself if you take illegal drugs or overindulge in alcohol. Your ability to operate effectively as a responsible parent can be significantly affected. If your doctor prescribes drugs for a medical condition, ask how they will affect you and your ability to look after your children. If you already have difficulty coping, tell your doctor. If you have a problem or someone close to you has a problem with drugs or alcohol, seek help. Call one of the help agencies listed on this website and take the first step to improving your and your family's health and well-being.
Children – what is naughty anyway?
Children come into the world embarking on a voyage of discovery. As captain of the ship, you can plot the course with care or let the ship drift wherever the sea will take it. Of course, even adults never stop learning, but a young child is full of wonder at the world and what it has to offer.
Along the way, there is pain and sorrow, but for a young child, there is often confusion as well. Why are they being told they are "naughty" for wanting to touch some new discovery on a supermarket shelf, or for getting into the cupboards? For older children and teenagers, with independence come choices.
Sometimes the choices will be mistakes, but if they are treated as mistakes and not "bad" behaviour, something will be learned from the experience. In the early years, children's absorbent minds are soaking up information, not only from their physical environment but also from those closest to them - most likely you as the parent.
We should not blame children for wanting to make discoveries. They will make mistakes along the way, as we all do, but we must be there when they make them, so they will learn from those mistakes. It doesn't mean we should simply let them do whatever they want - but we must be their guides, not their masters. It is normal for young children to:
- Get into cupboards and take things out.
- Leave toys all over the house.
- Wet or dirty their nappies or pants.
- Refuse to eat.
- Play with the dials on the television and other appliances.
- Refuse to share.
- Be messy.
- Jump on the furniture.
- Refuse to go to bed.
- Have temper tantrums.
- Unpot the plants.
- Scribble on books and the wallpaper.
- Spill food.
- Fight with brothers and sisters.
It might be frustrating when these things happen and we are busy or stressed, but they will happen nonetheless. How we react is important. Keeping calm and recognising that our children are not being "naughty", but that their behaviour is normal (though also at times inappropriate), is the key. When we react with anger and aggression, we show our children this is how we deal with stress. If this is how we have always reacted, we might be pleasantly surprised by children's behaviour when we talk calmly with them.
Knowing that our children are going to do things that annoy us or are inappropriate gives us a head start. In the beginning, at least, we are smarter than they are. We can be prepared and outwit them. Our home is where they will spend most of their time.
When babies arrive, we might have a bassinet or cot for them to sleep in and a room decorated. As they grow older, there might be a highchair, but once they are past the toddler stage, they are often expected to cope in the big people's world. Providing child-size furniture can make a difference. Children who cannot see what they are doing at the handbasin, or have to mess up a kitchen table when they want to draw can get frustrated and angry.
They want to be creative and they want to do things for themselves, but if we don't prepare the environment, we are looking for trouble. Consider getting a few items that will give your child a sense of independence and that you don't need to use yourself. Some of these things can be bought cheaply at garage sales and secondhand stores:
- A child-size table and chair for reading at, drawing, painting, eating at - something that can be messed up.
- A small step or stool that a child can easily carry around so they can reach the things they need (keep those things you don't want them to get out locked away or up high) - for going to the toilet, at the handbasin, at the kitchen bench, to reach books etc.
- A small wardrobe or cupboard so children can get their own clothes in or out.
- Low shelves for toys and books.
- Make sure the cot or bed is low enough for the child to get in and out - try taking the legs off a normal bed and keep the base off the floor with solid blocks of wood or clean bricks.
Know that children will naturally get into mischief, be prepared by distracting them, keeping things out of their reach, or giving them alternatives. If they get into cupboards, childproof the latches or put rubberbands around the handles so they can't be opened by young children. Try putting old pots and pans in a toy box or a cupboard in the child's room. If they leave toys all over the house, make a routine or game of picking them up at a set hour. Make sure they have a toy box or shelf for toys. If they play with the television and other appliances, give them an alternative, such as an old radio, they can play with in their room. Make sure it works, so they don't become easily frustrated with it.
If they are messy, put paper down first and restrict the available space. If they jump on the furniture, let them have cushions or bean bags in their room. If they have temper tantrums, put them somewhere safe until they cool down on their own.
If they unpot the plants, keep them out of the way or let them help you repot them. They are less likely to want to undo their own work. If they scribble on books and the wallpaper, let them scribble on old paper at their table. It doesn't mean you have to accept that it's alright to do some of these things. Children still need guidelines and to know that what they are doing is inappropriate.
Set the rules for children
It is up to you to establish the rules you want your child to stick to. For young children it can be quite straight-forward, for teenagers you will need to provide some opportunities for them to make their own choices and learn to take responsibility for their behaviour.
Some parents use rules to control their children and to exert their power. These parents are likely to lay down the law and punish misconduct often. They are also likely to show little affection for their children, because it might seem that they are "soft". Others let their children do almost as they please. They probably don't show any feelings of anger or even irritation.
Without guidelines and discipline from parents, children are likely to lack direction and self-discipline. Ideally parents will set limits to behaviour, and negotiate the rules and the consequences. They will listen to children and observe their behaviour so they might better understand why they sometimes misbehave. Some parents set too many rules and find themselves saying "no" all the time. Their child will always be "naughty" because they are always breaking the rules. When they get the tag of the "bad girl" or "bad boy", they can live out the role, believing they have nothing to lose because they're always breaking the rules anyway. Be realistic about rules, so you can "pick your fights".
Choose the important rules, make a list and keep them to a minimum. Is it really important if children have their elbows on the table? Involve your child in the process - you might be surprised at how even young children can accept rules when they feel they have "negotiated" some of them. Explain them clearly, then stick to them.
Talk to your partner about the rules, too, so you can both be firm and consistent. Don't set things up for the rules to be broken. As mentioned previously, keep things out of the way if you don't want children to have them. If they can't get them, they can't be tempted to break the rules.
Letting go sometimes
Having rules does not mean keeping a tight rein on what our children do. We all want the best for our children, but we must let them be individuals, make their own mistakes and enjoy their triumphs. We can help them through life by:
- Letting them help with some of the things we do.
- Letting them choose their own activities some of the time.
- Letting them choose their own friends.
- Hearing what they have to say about things - this does not mean you will always let them have things their own way.
- Accepting some of their likes and dislikes.
- Being willing to compromise sometimes.
- As they grow, giving them tasks and responsibilities.
- Understanding that there are a lot of different ways in which young people say who they are.
- Understanding how important the views and approval of their friends are.
- Appreciating and enjoying who your children are - they won't be the same as you.
- Standing by them through troubled patches.
- Celebrating young people's successes, however small they are.
What our children say
Who better than our children to guide us in our efforts to be better at parenting. Perhaps we should listen more to what they have to say about us. The following suggestions, contained in a leaflet produced by the Office of the Commissioner for Children, give some interesting comments from primary and intermediate-age children about how adults could help them be well behaved.
- Talk things over with me.
- Spend time with me.
- Listen to me and respond.
- When I am angry, let me cool down.
- Don't put me down, tease me or insult me.
- Be fair.
- Be sure I understand.
- Show me what you want.
- Show me you like me.
- Keep your promises.
- Don't hit or abuse me.
- Don't expect me to do things I can't do.
- Don't scream at me - just tell me.
- Notice when I behave well, praise me and give me rewards.
- Say you are sorry when you get things wrong.
- Don't get too angry.
- Give me help when I need it.
- Don't overreact to my mistakes.
- Notice me.
- Let me have my way sometimes.
- Don't have favourites.
- Meet me halfway.
- Have a sense of humour.
- Understand me.
- Give everyone a say.
- Encourage me.
- Talk over problems.
- Set a good example.
- Be firm when you need to be, but don't be nasty.
- Don't treat me like a baby.
The supermarket dilemma
Supermarkets have a classic environment for parent/child public confrontations. How many times have you found yourself wondering what to do with a screaming child as you try to do your shopping? Or wondering what to do when you see a parent abusing a child in the supermarket aisle? Children need to be kept occupied with activities when they are out shopping. Their natural tendency is to move, touch and explore. The very reason that supermarkets can cause such stress - that there is so much to distract children - can be used to parents' advantage.
Try giving children responsibility for some aspects of the shopping, or play shopping games. Get them to choose the best apples or cheapest tomatoes, or see how many products they can find that carry a particular brand name. Who can see the toothpaste first? If the child can read, let them tick off your grocery list.
Encourage children to participate by talking about what is happening around them and thinking about the chore you have to complete. Take a favourite book or toy, or a piece of fruit to keep them distracted. Read the book (or tell a memorised story) at the checkout and let the child help with some of the verses. Play "I spy" and get the child to guess what you see at the checkout.
If you find items at the checkout designed to entice children, ask the supermarket to remove them and put them on the supermarket shelves, where you can avoid them if necessary. Don't get upset about behaviour that is not going to hurt the child or someone else. Ignore it if it does not embarrass you or bother other people.
Praise good behaviour and point out good behaviour in other children. Stop bad behaviour immediately and make sure the child is aware that you will not tolerate it in public. If they have a temper tantrum, leave your trolley with staff or an obliging shopper and take the child out of the store to a quiet place. Tell the child that the behaviour is inappropriate and wait until they calm down. If necessary, go to the car with them and wait it out. Then ask if they are ready to behave properly. Before you set out, consider whether you really need to take the child. If they are tired or irritable already, leave the shopping until a better time or leave them with a babysitter.
Make sure they eat before you leave, so they won't pester you for treats. Discuss the behaviour you expect when you go shopping. Consider a small reward that you might buy as you leave the store, or discuss some activities you might do on the way home. If you are in a two-parent family, try to time your shopping so both parents can join in. One can shop while the other keeps the child occupied. Shopping with a friend can help keep you distracted and more relaxed. If the friend also has children, discuss your strategies with them. It can be fun to compare how your respective children react to different ideas.
When you see it happening
It's no fun seeing a parent hitting their children or yelling at them while shopping. Do you ignore it or intervene? If you decide to intervene, what are you going to do or say? Remember first, that the parent is probably acting that way because of some kind of stress. If you step in and tell them what a bad parent they are, you are likely to cop a fair bit of abuse yourself, and the child could get the blame for the incident. It might be better to offer some assistance to the parent. Suggest that you hold the child or look after them for a couple of minutes while the parent gets at least some shopping done on their own or gets the chance to cool down. Such an approach recognises the parent's stress and indirectly offers some sympathy.
Use words that convey sympathy for the parent's plight. "Your child is really making it difficult for you - can I help?" would be a good way to start. Sometimes it will help if you simply strike up a conversation to divert the parent's attention until everyone has calmed down. If you work in a store where you see a parent hitting or abusing a child, advise them that the store is a safe environment where such behaviour is not condoned. Obviously, if a child's well-being is directly at risk because of a beating or severe verbal abuse, step in to stop it immediately and notify the store staff. They should then call the Police to have the matter dealt with.
Child sexual abuse
Sexual abuse of a child might be verbal, visual (the production or viewing of pornographic images, any form of exhibitionism) or entail sexual contact. Incest, acts of paedophilia, pornography with children and exhibitionism are all forms of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is difficult to identify. Child and abuser often know each other because they are related to each other or are family friends. The abuser is usually a person who is trusted, or holds what is expected to be a position of trust.
Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and in New Zealand the number of incidents is shockingly high - one of the highest in the developed world. We have seen studies showing figures ranging from 1 in 7 to 1 in 11 for boys being sexually abused before adulthood. For girls, from 1 in 3 to 1 in 6 are sexually abused before they turn 16 years old. As you can understand it's a very difficult statistic to verify, please find references at the bottom of this section.
Most of this abuse (90%) will be perpetrated by someone they know and 70% will involve genital contact. It is estimated that only 4 to 8% of child sex abuse reports are fabricated, so listening to anything a child tells you is crucial for their safety. You can also teach your kids that if someone tells them a secret that makes them feel uncomfortable or gives them any bad feelings, they must tell an adult they trust. It doesn’t matter if the person who told them the secret is a grown-up, teenager or another child.
Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. Keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour, there may be many reasons for these changes but if you notice a combination of the signs it might be time to get help or advice:
- Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects.
- Nightmares, sleeping problems.
- Becoming withdrawn or very clingy.
- Becoming unusually secretive.
- Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure.
- Regressing to younger behaviours, e.g. bedwetting.
- Unaccountable fear of particular places or people.
- Outbursts of anger.
- Changes in eating habits.
- New adult words for body parts and no obvious source.
- Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts.
- Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities).
- Physical signs, such as unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy.
- Running away.
- Not wanting to be alone with a particular person.
These signs do not necessarily mean they are being sexually abused but you may want to start asking questions and seeking professional help if these behaviours occur.
A community's biggest aim should be keeping their children safe so why are the numbers so high? Many do not want to talk about it as it is uncomfortable but educating yourself and your children is one of the most important things you can do. You need to teach your children that it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them, and be specific; use examples. Teach them what parts of their body others shouldn't touch and use the proper names.
These are just some of the ways to minimise sexual abuse, here are a few other websites with some more information.
If you're unsure how to communicate these things to your children here are some great infographics that can help them identify the signs and what they should do about it: https://e2epublishing.info/posters/#postersuk
If you suspect sexual abuse is happening call 111 immediately.
- Fanslow, JL., Robinson, EM., Crengle, S., Perese, L. (2007). Prevalence of child sexual abuse reported by a cross-sectional sample of New Zealand women.
- Triggs, S., Mossman, E., Jordan, J. & Kingi, V. (2009). Responding to Sexual Violence: Attrition in the New Zealand criminal justice system. Wellington: viii.
- Everson, M., and Boat, B. (1989). False allegations of sexual abuse by children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 28, 2:230-35.
Physical abuse against children
What can you do to help keep kids safe?
In a crisis, dial 111 and ask for the Police. If your children are in immediate danger from another family member, a visitor or intruder, look for safety first. Run outside or head for a public place, scream for help or call the Police. Emergency 111 calls are free from all telephones, including payphones and cellular phones. If you are a neighbour or other witness to violence or other abuse, you have a responsibility to report it. It is a crime and the Police will react accordingly. They ensure the safety of the children.
If you suspect your own children or those of a family member or a close friend are being abused, find out what you can about the family’s present situation. Talk to the parents and listen for any clues as to whether they feel they have particularly difficult problems. See how they react to their children and how their children react - is there a lot of yelling and threats, do the children look fearful? Can you encourage the parents to seek help? If they agree to get help, follow it up. If you are not sure what to do, talk to one of the agencies under the Directory tab in the top menu.
They have trained staff who can advise you what to do or make discreet inquiries about the victim’s welfare. If you genuinely believe children are being harmed, call the Police, or Oranga Tamariki service immediately. Children need special help because they are often unable to take action to keep themselves safe. A Police officer or social worker can then take appropriate action to protect the child. If you merely suspect abuse is occurring - you might have heard yelling and slapping from next door, a child crying - should you report it? If you are not sure, contact a help agency. You can talk confidentially with them about what you know.
They will probably have a better idea of whether abuse is occurring and will know what can be done to help. People, especially those not close to a victim, might be reluctant to report violence or abuse because they feel it is none of their business or they might be wrong. However, children have a right to be protected from harm - you might be their only hope of changing their circumstances.
"The desperate face of a two-year-old boy peering from his bedroom window set off bells of alarm that led to the rescue of a toddler surrounded by filth and isolated from the outside world, an Auckland court was told today. The West Auckland boy was found covered in faeces and imprisoned in his room so his mother, who worked as a stripper, could hit the town at night. Neighbours said the boy was violent, spoke in grunts and went through their rubbish like a dog. A neighbour, seeing the boy's face at his window in October, dialled 111 for help. Yesterday, the 23- year-old mother, who has name suppression, sobbed in Henderson District Court when she was convicted by Judge Coral Shaw of wilful neglect...." NZ Press Association report, December 12, 1997.
Abuse and neglect of children in the family is a serious, ongoing problem in New Zealand. High profile cases are greeted with revulsion by most parents, but they still occur with uncomfortable regularity. Abuse is not usually random, but occurring on a regular basis that gets worse over time. It is not defined as just physical attacks or sexual abuse – it can include emotional or psychological acts that are designed to exert power and control over children. Abuse can be:
- Physical – sometimes it does not cause bleeding or leave bruises, but it is enough to cause fear of physical harm in a child. When violence is used, a child fears that next time it will be worse.
- Sexual – rape or the use of force or coercion to induce a child to engage in sexual acts against their will.
- Emotional – it can be constant put-downs and name-calling, intimidation and harassment; things that make children feel bad about themselves.
It is likely to include yelling and threats of physical violence, or threats designed to make children fearful. Looks, actions and expressions might be used to instil fear. Items valuable to a child might be smashed or pets harmed.
- Isolation – a child might be isolated from friends, often because their friends are made to feel unwelcome in the home.
- Neglect – depriving children of necessities such as food, shelter, supervision appropriate to their age and essential physical and medical care.
Child abuse occurs in all types of New Zealand homes – it is as likely to occur in a wealthy city suburb as a poor country town and is common across families, religions, races and cultures. In most cases of abuse, the abuser is well known to the victim – a family member, a close relative or friend of the family. While actual violence against children is a big concern, children are also harmed by the violence they might witness in the home. A Women’s Refuge study showed that, for women receiving help from refuges, 90% of their children had witnessed violence and 50% of the children had also been physically abused. 12% had been sexually abused. It is of concern that children not only see the violence, but also hear the shouting and crying that go with it.
Effects on children
As victims and witnesses of family violence, children can be severely harmed. Children can suffer horrific injuries as a result of violence in the home. Adults, because of their usually dominant physical strength, can hurt children more than they ever mean to. If a parent is subjected to violence, most children know. They often witness the traumatic beatings or the humiliation. Sometimes they get involved, trying to help by attempting to stop the violence themselves. They can get hurt by accident or as part of the attack on another victim. Studies have shown children suffer long-term effects of witnessing abuse through:
- Increased illness.
- Low self-esteem.
- Social problems.
- Failure at school.
- Violent delinquency.
A United States study found that children who grew up in violent homes were twice as likely to commit violent crimes as those who lived in safe homes. Children who witness family violence have been shown to be more aggressive and antisocial, more fearful, and to have low social skills. Many show behavioural problems such as hyperactivity, anxiety or aggression that are severe enough to be regarded as clinical problems.
The greatest long-term danger is perhaps that children accept that violence is acceptable behaviour – that when an adult is angry or frustrated, violence is a solution. Girls who see their mother abused can model their mother’s behaviour, becoming fearful, withdrawn and distrustful. Girls who have been in abusive families are more likely to accept victimisation and violence from their friends and partners in adulthood. Boys might model their behaviour on that of their violent father. Boys can become aggressive, bullying not only their friends and siblings as youngsters, but also their mother. As adults, they are more likely to beat their partners and commit violent crimes.
How it happens
Child abuse is about power and control - a desire by an abuser to dominate a child through fear. Why do adults want to do that? Often it is simply that they know of no alternatives to physical discipline, or that they want to cover their own inadequacies by trying to dominate children who are in no position to defend themselves. Many parents grew up with abuse in their own family and are simply continuing the cycle. Part of the reason it has become such a problem is that society has accepted that abuse in a family is where it stays - many people accept that “it’s nothing to do with us”. Of course, there are triggers to abuse, such as alcohol and drugs, stress, unemployment and so on.
But it won't stop until everyone sees abuse as socially unacceptable, wherever it occurs. Police and welfare agency initiatives in dealing with child abuse have begun to change the attitudes of society. An abuser is no longer able to continue violent behaviour without the risk of neighbours, family and friends reporting it. And when it is reported, it is dealt with by the Police, Oranga Tamariki and a justice system that recognises it is a crime. Society is now also expecting abusers to take responsibility for their actions and to take the consequences, get help and to do something about their behaviour.
New Zealanders have been horrified in past years by several widely publicised accounts of children dying in gruesome circumstances that almost defy imagining. But the death of a four-year-old in 1999 was a catalyst for action…
Riri-o-te-Rangi (James) Whakaruru was born on June 13, 1994. He died on April 4, 1999. His mother’s partner had punched, kicked, and beaten him to death because he would not call the man “daddy”. This little boy’s death, says the Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, highlighted several failures in New Zealand’s child protection set-up. The commissioner’s investigation – the first into the violent death of a child – found that information concerning James, his mother and her partner was fragmented and that people in various agencies didn’t act or share information with each other when they should have.
The commissioner’s report of his investigation sparked a great deal of public comment about child abuse in New Zealand. The commissioner told a family violence conference at Cyprus in November 2000 that the investigation was set up to examine how James died, despite the many agencies involved with the boy and his family, and to consider what needed to change so that family violence was effectively responded to. The investigation reviewed the circumstances of one child, and the response of agencies who had contact with him and who had an opportunity to notice and take steps to stop the harm being done to him. “. . . this investigation found that there were weaknesses at every point of community contact with James,” Mr McClay said.
James’s mother began a relationship with Ben Haerewa when the child was about a year old. James was seen by two general practitioners for facial injuries when aged 15 months (twice) and at 18 months. The Police had been called to a domestic violence incident about then, but James’s mother did not want to lay a complaint. “An effective intervention at this time could have altered the events which were to come later,” the commissioner said.
On July 18, 1996, aged 2, James was admitted to hospital with serious injuries when he and his mother were assaulted. The hospital reported the assault on James to the Police and Ben Haerewa was charged, convicted and eventually sentenced. On February 11, 1997, while Ben Haerewa was in prison and custody of James was being contested, James cut his chin in an alleged fall down steps. “The hospital emergency department did not access existing hospital records regarding the previous non-accidental injury.
They did not advise Oranga Tamariki of this incident,” the commissioner’s report says. Hospital records show that James was probably in his mother’s care, while Oranga Tamariki believed he was with his grandmother. “If this health information had been shared within the hospital and with Oranga Tamariki, a strong indicator of risk would have been apparent.” Ben Haerewa was released from prison on March 3, 1997. Conditions of his release were not passed to the Community Probation Service. The Family Court granted a temporary protection order for James under the Domestic Violence Act, 1995.
The court did not tell the Department of Corrections, who was supervising Ben Haerewa on his release from prison, that he had had a protection order granted against him. James, his mother, and Ben Haerewa were absent from view between April 1997–May 1998. No agency records show any contact with James. Between May 1998 and his death in April 1999, James suffered two significant injuries. Neither was reported to Oranga Tamariki or the Police. On May 9, 1998, James was in hospital for a tear to his penis, which required emergency surgery.
The hospital recorded two different explanations given by family and patient for this injury. “Neither the conflicting explanations, nor the medical history of non-accidental injury, seemed to alert any emergency or specialist staff to potential harm,” the commissioner said. 15 On March 20, 1999, James’s mother sought help from an emergency pharmacy for a deep laceration to James’s lip. She was taken to a GP who had had no previous family contact. She returned to the doctor again the next day, for no obvious reason, but did not return for the sutures to be removed. The doctor passed information about this incident to the practice where he believed the family was known, “but they said they had not seen James for ‘a very long time’.” James died shortly after arrival at the hospital emergency department on April 4, 1999.
He had extensive internal injuries and tissue damage consistent with one – or more likely several – prolonged beatings. James had been seen 40 times by health practitioners – four times at the hospital emergency department, two admissions and one outpatient clinic, three face-to-face Plunket contacts, and 30 visits to general practitioners at four practices. “Collectively the health sector had available a telling picture of James’s circumstances,” the commissioner said. “This picture was never put together because of poor communication between practitioners.”
The commissioner went on to say: “James Whakaruru was badly let down by the state. “It is true that it was his mother’s partner who punched, kicked and bashed James to death during that Easter weekend . It is, however, also true, that the state did not protect him in the way that it should have during the five years of his life.” The commissioner made several recommendations to the Government, many of which have been implemented by the agencies concerned. Others are following.
According to a Government report, the commissioner found: · A fragmented approach to the rights of the child, lacking a “global” policy or plan of action concerning children and their rights. The approach to care and protection was fragmented. Agencies did not collaborate and share information with one another, and they didn’t follow the rules. The agencies failed to engage with families and communities, nor engage culturally appropriate services, despite the Government’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. Families, communities and professionals did not recognise and report incidents of child abuse and neglect.
Assessments of risk factors were incomplete or flawed, and some people were confused over thresholds for statutory intervention. Professionals were hindered by a lack of information bases, including a central database for recording health information.
Flaws in legislation or its use to help children. This little boy’s death prompted an investigation by the Commissioner for Children at the time, Roger McClay. Mr McClay found that information concerning James, his mother and her partner was fragmented and that people in various agencies didn’t act or share information with each other when they should have. His report sparked a great deal of public comment about child abuse in New Zealand. He made several recommendations to the Government, many of which have been implemented.
Reporting guidelines for doctors
In May 2001 the Ministry of Health issued a set of protocols, or guidelines, for general practitioners to follow if they encountered abuse, or suspected it, in their child patients. The guidelines were developed by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Oranga Tamariki Services, with input from a group of Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners. The main guiding principles are that the child’s safety is paramount; that an early referral to the appropriate authority is essential; and that the Department of Oranga Tamariki Services and/or the Police investigate and interview the child and family – that’s not the GP’s job. There are no legal barriers to referring a child to the proper authority. Key points for GPs are:
- Keep an open mind to the possibility of child abuse.
- Look for signs of abuse and neglect and adequately document.
- Refer to an appropriate authority.
- Seek feedback about the child’s progress from the agency the doctor made the referral to.
- Keep up the relationship with the child and family, where possible.
- Get support for themselves.
Doctors should note and keep evidence of child abuse. The guidelines include child diagrams on which doctors can note injuries that might be the result of abuse. Children who have been abused, or show signs of possibly having been, should be referred to specialists such as paediatricians or Oranga Tamariki workers. The history and clinical signs of injury should be adequately documented. Where sexual abuse is a possibility, Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care will be contacted by Oranga Tamariki or the Police. If in doubt, doctors should tell someone such as an experienced colleague, paediatrician, Youth Health Services or Oranga Tamariki, or some other agency for social support. Doctors are urged to look for signs that might be consistent with a child’s being abused.
- History inconsistent with the injury presented.
- Delay in seeking help.
- Past abuse or family violence.
- Disclosure by the child.
- Exposure to family violence, pornography, alcohol or drug abuse.
- Parents abused as child (or children).
- Inappropriate or inconsistent discipline (especially thrashings or any physical punishment of babies).
- Terrorising, humiliating or oppressing.
- Neglecting the child.
- Actively avoiding care or shopping around for care (frequent changes of address).
Physical signs could include:
- Multiple injuries of different ages, including welts, cuts, and bruises.
- Scalds and burns.
- Poor hygiene.
Behavioural and developmental signs include:
- Anxiety and regression.
- Suicidal thoughts/plans.
- Overly responsible behaviour.
- Fear, sadness, defiance.
James Whakaruru, in his four years of life, was seen 40 times by health practitioners – hospital emergency departments four times, two admissions and one outpatient clinic, three face-to-face Plunket contacts, and 30 visits to GPs in four practices.
Reporting child abuse
Anyone can report suspected child abuse in this country and people who call Oranga Tamariki can ask to remain anonymous. Even if an investigation results in no abuse being found the law will protect you if you disclosed or supplied information in good faith. Fear of being wrong is the single most common reason people might decide not to act. People feel this way because they might be afraid of:
- Being thought insensitive.
- Breaking a confidence.
- Being disloyal.
One of the best ways to overcome this fear is to equip ourselves with good knowledge and to discuss concerns early with an appropriate person. You can use the Oranga Tamariki freephone – 0508 326 459 – to sound out your concerns. If you are concerned that a child or young person is being abused, remember that their safety and wellbeing comes first. If you suspect abuse:
- Look for signs that abuse has occurred – these can be as obvious as a child or young person telling you that something has occurred, or physical signs of bruising or discomfort. Some signs are less obvious, and if you would like more information contact Oranga Tamariki.
- Make and keep notes. What are you seeing and hearing? What are the times, dates and places? Notes will help you clarify your concerns and be a ready reference for you to talk with a social worker.
- Contact a social worker at the national call centre for Oranga Tamariki.
They are available on freephone 0508 326 459. Call into your local Oranga Tamariki office if you do not have a phone. When you are reporting a concern, Oranga Tamariki will need to know as much as possible about the situation. Useful details include the name, age and ethnicity of the child or young person, the address where the child or young person can be found, and as much about the abuse or your concerns as possible.
If you witness an incident, or have serious immediate concerns that a child is being abused, you can contact the Police immediately. Dial 111, and remember to give the operator exact address details of where you are or where the abuse is occurring – your locality might not be the only one with a “King Street”, for example. Such precise details could be crucial in saving a life. You can expect to be informed of the outcome of the notification, unless it is clearly impractical or undesirable to do so. Everyone has a duty to help keep our children safe. There are many ways to help children and families. You can offer support, offer to mind the children, share time over a cup of coffee, or suggest community services that might be of help.
The frightened little witnesses
Children and babies are often invisible to adults in violent situations, and to adults who come to help. Every year, thousands of New Zealand children are seriously affected by domestic violence. Adults often hope that children don’t realise that their parents are being abused – “the children were asleep”, “they were outside playing”, “too little to understand” . . . Children who are frightened and traumatised suffer from health, development and emotional problems. Trauma interferes with their ability to learn. Studies show that children can often give detailed descriptions of the abuse. Men and women abuse children. Women abused by their male partner might in turn abuse their children. Children who are frightened and traumatised suffer from health, development, and emotional problems. Trauma affects children's brain development greatly.
Chronic anxiety creates chemicals in their brains that interfere with their ability to learn. Children's intellectual, emotional and psychological ability is shaped by what they see, hear, and how they make sense of it. Being abused, listening to it or hearing it prevents children from realising their potential as adults. A New Zealand study found that 75% of children in women's refuges who had witnessed the abuse of their mother showed behavioural problems severe enough to require specialist help.
If a woman is beaten when she is pregnant, then the risk to the child of being beaten after it is born is greatly increased. Children and youth who have been abused or neglected at home are more vulnerable to other types of abuse, especially sexual abuse. Psychological and verbal abuse also damage children. Effects include acute feelings of loss, anger, sadness, confusion, guilt, shock, fear, insecurity and risk of self-mutilation. Some experts say that children will cope in one of four ways:
- Living in secret, withdrawing into a fantasy world, apparently unaware of what’s going on around them. Maybe overly compliant, quiet, or high achieving at school.
- Conflict of loyalties – they feel they have to choose which parent to support or that they can love only one parent.
- Living in terror and fear with no stability or certainty, chronic long-term anxiety, depression, bed wetting, going back to younger behaviour.
- Aggressive and bullying, behaviour problems and failure at school, sometimes diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Boys who witness their mother being beaten frequently are much more likely to go on to abuse their women partners. Some girls assume that male violence is a normal part of any relationship.
What we can do to help children
If the violence is serious or imminent, report it to the Police or Oranga Tamariki immediately. Also:
- Make sure the child’s primary caregiver is safe from violence and abuse.
- Consider the needs of children when responding to domestic violence.
- When violence is present, assume that it is affecting children and whanau nearby.
- Assure children that violence used by adults is not the child’s fault.
- Recognise that domestic violence abuse and neglect are often accompanied by sexual abuse, which also requires a specialist response.
- Find out about the specialised children’s services available in your area.
- Learn about the effects of trauma on children.
- Listen carefully to children’s experience – recognise that it is real for them.
- Recognise that with careful, consistent and skilled help, children can recover from the effects of abuse.
Keep kids road safe
Forget the house, the car or the flash TV. Our kids are our most precious asset and deserve special care and attention, especially when they’re most vulnerable – on and around the roads.
As adults, we are the biggest influencers of kids’ behaviour in the community. If kids see us running across the road in front of traffic or cycling without a helmet, they will see that as OK. If they walk to school, walk with them several times so you can identify the hazards and show them what to do. Show them why using a pedestrian crossing is important, and the dangers of crossing the road.
We also need to be alert to the special way kids react to situations. As drivers, we should take care when we see kids, or where they’re likely to be (around schools, playgrounds and school buses). Slow down and be extra vigilant. By their very nature, kids are impulsive and bad judges of distance and speed, so even if they see you, they might still run onto the road.
Every year about 40 children die as pedestrians and about 100 are seriously injured – mostly going to or from school, or near their homes. Child pedestrian injuries account for about a third of all traffic-related child deaths. So what can we do to keep our kids safe on the road? At a basic level, we can:
- Teach kids how to use pedestrian crossings and controlled intersections safely.
- Use a “walking school bus” or set one up if there isn’t one already (see below).
- Use a school travel plan.
- Keep your vehicle speed around kids very slow – around school buses the law says you must travel at only 20km/h (in both directions).
Walking school buses
A great innovation that is gaining support throughout the country is what’s known as “walking school buses”, initiated in New Zealand by the organisation Safekids NZ. It’s essentially a group of parents who walk with up to eight primary school children to ensure they get safely to and from school. The kids are dropped off and picked up at stops on a designated route by their parents. The route is usually about a kilometre long and is assessed for suitability by a traffic engineer. Safekids says the key benefits of the walking school buses are:
- Reducing the known risk factors for child pedestrian injury.
- Reducing car congestion around schools (an average of 21 fewer cars traveling to school per route).
- Greater awareness by everyone in the community on the role they play in child pedestrian safety.
Nearly 500 children a year are hospitalised after cycle accidents and on average two children die each year (most of them boys). Boys aged 10-14 years are at greatest risk of fatal injury.
The main messages for child cyclists:
- Be smart – plan safe cycle routes with an adult, the best riders are skilled riders.
- Be safe – no helmet no bike.
- Be seen – wear bright colours, and use reflective gear such as high-visibility vests and backpack covers to give you a better chance of other road users seeing you.
New Zealand is somewhat unique in having long driveways on properties, especially in smaller rural towns. This is because the “quarter-acre section” traditionally had the garage at the back of the section. The danger of the long driveway is the distance cars often have to travel in reverse, which limits drivers’ ability to see small children. Vision from a driver’s seat can be restricted for up to 10 metres from the back of the car.
Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. Another five kids are killed annually, on average. Most injuries are to toddlers about two years old and are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member, resulting in devastating effects on families.
A recent Safekids campaign has raised awareness throughout the country of how to be more safety conscious on driveways. The message is that you should know where the kids are before you get in the car, because if an accident happens, there’s no going back.
Check, supervise and separate
- Check for children before driving off.
- Supervise children around vehicles – always.
- Separate play areas from driveways.
Also have someone watch around your vehicle as you leave to ensure no kids are nearby, and get visitors to park on the road.
All children aged up to 7 must be in an appropriate child restraint (such as a booster seat) in a vehicle, and those aged between 7-8 must use one if it’s available. The aim is to reduce the injury and fatality rate for young children by ensuring they’re not restrained in an adult seat belt. In any event, it’s recommended that kids use a child restraint or booster seat at least until they’re 148cm tall. One of the leading causes of injury involves children as passengers in vehicles. About 15 children a year die and about 300 end up in hospital. Booster seats for pre-school and school-aged kids have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by up to 59%.
Keep the kids safe by:
- Always using the correct child restraint and booster seat for your child’s height and age.
- Following the manufacturers’ instructions for your child restraint.
- Making sure your child restraint or booster seat correctly fits your vehicle.
- Getting help installing your child restraint or booster. Contact an NZTA-certified child restraint technician for support and to get help to correctly install a child restraint.
- Putting kids in the back seat where it’s safest.