Positive parenting is the answer to ending 'reasonable punishment' defence

By Des Mannion

| 30 January 2018

A consultation has been launched by the Welsh Government asking for the public's views ahead of plans to remove the defence of "reasonable punishment" against assault in Wales.

Currently, adults accused of assaulting a child in their care are able to use a defence that they were disciplining the child. This defence is not available in any other assault case.

The plans for change have been widely welcomed with the Children's  Commissioner for Wales Sally Holland and others giving their backing.

The NSPCC has long campaigned for this amendment which will close a legal loophole in the assault law and finally give children the same level of protection as adults and full equality under the law.

We believe this is first and foremost a common sense move which will see Wales follow more than 50 countries around the world which have equal protection in place. Close to home, the Republic of Ireland has made the change and Scotland is also committed to reform its laws over the coming year.

This is not a new law or a ban on smacking. It is simply the removal of a common law defence available in a small number of assault cases. But we think change is the right thing for children and for society.

As well as it being fundamentally unfair that children can be hit while adults cannot, evidence is increasingly showing that physical punishment is not effective and can often be counter productive.

Physical punishment has been shown to increase aggression, antisocial behaviour, depression and anxiety in children while we know that the best results can come from responsive parenting in which positive behaviour is praised and children encouraged to repeat it.

We also know that most physical punishment of children occurs when parents or carers are angry or tired and after lashing out they usually regret their behaviour. To help parents NSPCC Wales recently launched Take 5 which urges parents to "Stop. Breath. React Calmly" when dealing with challenging parenting situations.

Similarly, the Welsh Government's "Parenting. Give it time" initiative offers support and advice about how to cope when children are misbehaving.

From what to do and what not to do, the guidance reassures that there is no "one size fits all" policy for parenting, but there are ways you can discipline children without resorting to physical punishment.

Whether that's a time out, distraction or restricting children's access to screen time, the advice shows that there are ways to deal with unwanted or problem behaviour in a positive way.

Over the 12 weeks of the Welsh Government consultation it is hoped that as many people as possible make their views known and help steer the way for a change to the law which will see Wales leading the way providing equal protection from assault for our in children.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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