Reconceptualising ‘discipline’ through a child rights lens

An alternative to smacking that incorporates child rights

Authors: Dr Justin Coulson

Dr Justin Coulson examines research demonstrating that punishment does not change a child’s behaviour. He makes a strong argument for ending corporal punishment of children by using positive methods of discipline that ensure children grow up free from violence and having their rights respected.

Using a child rights approach, adults can support and encourage children that helps them learn what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. Discipline is seen as a process that teaches children acceptable ways to act by developing empathy, character, and morality; by empowering the child. This approach also views learning how to behave as an ongoing process throughout a child’s life, not a series of one-off events.

There are several ways that adults can support children to learn how to behave in a way that not only supports their rights but enhances their ability to make good choices for themselves as they grow. Some examples are:

  1. Be a role model
  2. Explain what is expected
  3. Encourage discussion
  4. Practise and have fun
  5. Care, especially when adults or children are tired, hungry, lonely or upset.
  6. Be proactive and positive
  7. Celebrate when children do the ‘right thing’

In a short video, Justin explains why the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 19 is the article he wants all Australians to consider as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Australia’s signing of the Convention on December 17, 2020.

Articles from the Convention addressed in this paper

  • Article 3: All adults should always do what is best for children.
  • Article 5: Governments and parents must ensure children are equipped with the knowledge to understand their rights.
  • Article 12: Children have the right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously
  • Article 14: Children have the right to think what they like and be whatever religion they want to be, with their parents’ guidance.
  • Article 17: Children have the right to collect information from the media – radios, newspapers, television, etc – from all around the world. Children You should also be protected from information that could harm them
  • Article 19: Children have the right to be protected from abuse and harm.
  • Article 29: Children have the right to education which tries to develop their personality and abilities as much as possible and encourages them to respect other people’s rights and values and to respect the environment.
  • Article 31: All children have the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

Read the full article (PDF, 1.7MB)

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