Social service, early childhood and healthcare practitioners converged to discuss parental use of physical discipline

Insights from Practitioners on Non-Physical Discipline Methods

All children deserve to be raised in a safe and nurturing environment. This is why our organisation has taken a strong stance against parental use of physical discipline, which can damage parent-child relationships and impact the long-term mental well-being of children.

Over the past year, since the release of findings from our Parental Disciplinary Practices Study, we have introduced various resources to support parents in adopting non-physical disciplinary approaches. These resources highlight the negative impact of physical discipline and provide insights into the neuroscience of child development.

However, the challenge remains – how can we effectively encourage parents to adopt the use of non-physical discipline? What roles can practitioners play?

To address these questions, we invited 45 practitioners from the social service, early childhood and healthcare sectors for a dialogue on 24 May at the Bishan Public Library. Through this session, we sought valuable insights from professionals in relevant fields to help us develop practical strategies that can break parental barriers to adopting non-physical discipline methods.

Staff from Singapore Children’s Society facilitated the group discussions

Here are some key perspectives we gathered regarding the challenges parents face today:

  • Parenting practices are influenced by deeper internal and personal factors

A parent’s choice of disciplinary practices is greatly influenced by their beliefs and values. Some parents firmly believe that physical discipline is an effective tool for gaining compliance and control. When parenting is perceived as a private matter, it can become harder for parents to be receptive to external support, such as concerned teachers, in raising children.

  • Stressors from various sources limit parents’ capacity and bandwidth

Parents may lack knowledge and skills in non-physical disciplinary approaches, which add to the stress they face from multiple aspects of their lives. Balancing work, caregiving and other responsibilities puts immense pressure on them, limiting their capacity and bandwidth to use alternative discipline methods to guide their children. External sources of stress such as disagreements on parenting styles between couples and grandparents add to these challenges.

Social service agencies often encounter families facing complex stressors like low income, housing issues and intergenerational trauma, which further restrict parents’ bandwidth. Consequently, parents with too much on their plate are unlikely to prioritise parenting programmes and workshops, resulting in low uptake.

Understanding these challenges is crucial to bridging the gap and encouraging parents to adopt alternative discipline methods. Practitioners made several recommendations to address this gap, including:

  • Empathise with parents and explore ways to expand their bandwidth

Recognising the stress that parents face, it’s essential to understand and meet their individual needs. Practitioners can explore solutions that increase parents’ bandwidth and affirm their efforts in changing harmful disciplinary practices. They can also help parents reflect on their feelings and regulate their emotions to better deal with heated situations. In particular, it is crucial to communicate with these parents sensitively and avoid judgement.

  • Collaborate to build approaches that leverage parents’ strengths

When working with parents, it is beneficial to adopt a strengths-based approach. Meaningful collaboration can be established by exploring common goals, seeking parents’ opinions on suggestions and making changes accordingly.

At a systems level, collaboration with stakeholders in different sectors can lead to the creation of relevant and local resources such as bite-sized videos and workshops that equip parents with positive parenting strategies. Nationwide initiatives can also include parenting workshops framed as respite sessions. Supporting parents in self-care can also improve their mental well-being and reduce caregiver burnout.

These approaches should be tailored to different parent profiles, such as simplifying the language for those with lower education levels. Additionally, establishing a support network or community can help parents follow through with non-physical discipline methods.

Ms Lin Xiaoling, the Director of the Research and Advocacy Department, wrapped up the thought-provoking dialogue with actionable steps that summarised the recommendations from practitioners

In conclusion, the dialogue session proved fruitful in shedding light on how to support parents in raising their children. We hope to continue to shift the perspectives of parents in Singapore, fostering stronger family ties and reducing the harmful impact of physical discipline.

Parents can also use the following resources to discuss physical discipline with their friends, family members and colleagues:

Part 1: “Let’s talk about physical discipline”.

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Part 2: “Factors that contribute to physical discipline”. 

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Part 3: “Impact of physical discipline”.

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For more parenting resources, please click here.

Click here to read the story in Chinese.

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