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Section 59 Exposed

Disciplining children is often left to fathers. No matter what side of the smacking debate you’re on, many parents are confused about alternatives to physical discipline.

All children need clear boundaries. Creating routines and rules can help your children learn your expectations, and set their own boundaries. Clear boundaries help you deal with “difficult” behaviour, and reward good behaviour.

Tell your children what you don’t like and what they should do instead.

Criticise the behaviour, not the child. Shouting, criticising and threatening can damage a child as much as hitting. Tell your child exactly what you don’t like about their behaviour. For example, “I know you are busy, but can you please tidy your room”, rather than “You’re such a messy kid”.

Ignore behaviour you don’t like or want. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, try not to take any notice of behaviour you don’t like or want. Sometimes paying attention to behaviour simply makes the situation worse. Behaving badly is a great way of getting attention. Your children will learn what makes you react.

When you give attention for good behaviour you are encouraging your child to repeat it.

Distract them with another activity. Small children are not naturally co-operative and your anger can turn the situation into a battle, or lead to tantrums. Small children can usually be distracted with toys and games. Doing an activity together with your children distracts them and gives positive attention.

For example “Let’s see how quickly we can all get ready” or “Let’s phone up Nanny and tell her the new words you learned today at Kohanga Reo”.

Take away something your child enjoys (putting it “in prison”). If talking and distracting don’t work, try taking away a treat or privilege temporarily – such as riding their bike or watching a favourite TV programme.

Be sure your child knows why you have done this and for how long. How long you take away the treat will depend on the child’s age. Small children will forget the reason if it goes on too long. Make sure you keep your side of the bargain by doing exactly what you said you would.

Use “time out”. ”Time out” is not about punishment. It is about helping your children learn to manage their own behaviour and feelings. It’s also about giving both of you a chance to cool down. During time out, your children don’t get the attention for negative behaviour.

They go to another room, or sit in a specific place, where they are safe. Time out is most useful for children aged three years and over.

Some hints about using “time out”.

1. Talk about “time out” before you use it, while you are both calm. Explain to your child how “time out” works and when you will use it.

2. When the behaviour you don’t like occurs, warn your child, and if they don’t stop, tell them to “Go to time out”. Remember to explain why, for example: “We’re doing this because you are hitting your brother. You are going to stop and spend some time on your own”. You can also use it just to separate yourself from an angry situation.

3. Where your child goes for “time out” depends on their age and available safe space. It’s best if “time out” is somewhere boring like the hall or laundry. Make sure detergents and other unsafe items are out of the way. Using the bedroom can be OK if the child can be trusted to be sensible and not trash the room.

4. Once you’ve been using “time out” for a while, your child will learn what they have to do. To start with, you may need to make sure they go to “time out” by firmly guiding them. Do not hit or threaten your child, or lock them in. If “time out” cannot be done in a relatively calm way, it won’t work.

5. “Time out” must be for a specific amount of time. Tell your child how long they will be in “time out”. Approximately one to three minutes is usually long enough. Older children can time themselves; younger children may need reassurance about how long they have before time is up.

If you have an alarm clock or an egg timer, you can give this to your children so they know when “time out” is finished.

6. After “time out” is over, don’t talk about what has happened. Help your child to find another activity and praise them for behaving well.

Information taken from “Children, Young Persons and Their Families Agency” resources.

What is Section 59 Of the Crimes Act 1961?

Section 59 states that the parents of a child, or a person in place of a parent are “justified in using force by way of correction towards a child if that force is reasonable in the circumstances”.

The key phrase is “reasonable force”.

It is often left to a jury to decide if the force used was in fact reasonable. Often the defence in child beating cases is that Section 59 allows these physical beatings as “reasonable force”.

The other sticking point is who exactly qualifies for “a person in place of a parent”?

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