GP's grim diagnosis for parents

By Simon Collins

The Herald is running a week-long series on the smacking debate. On Saturday we looked at changing smacking habits, today we cover parents' stories. To tell us your stories, go to the Your Views discussion. Or you can follow the debate on our facebook page.

Dr Robyn Theakston smacked her children and believes it helps set groundrules. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Dr Robyn Theakston smacked her children and believes it helps set groundrules. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

An Auckland doctor says a quarter of New Zealand parents can't control their children.

Dr Robyn Theakston, a general practitioner in Three Kings, says the 2007 law banning the use of force for "correction" has made things worse by restricting parents' disciplinary choices.

"As a GP I am sometimes appalled by the results of poor parenting I see - excessive laxity, neglect and cruelty," she wrote in a Herald online forum on the smacking referendum yesterday.

She told the Herald later that she saw many good parents, but she estimated that about a quarter of the parents she sees do not know how to control their children - far more than the number who treat their children too harshly.

"You can tell a good parent because they can calm the child. The child trusts the parent. They feel the parent is in control," she said. "Other children come in and the parents don't know what to do. The child is not used to being told what to do so they wreak havoc."

She said many parents were too insecure to say no to their children.

"For instance, a child comes in with a high fever - this is new in the last five years - and you say, 'We need to give paracetamol'. He refuses to take it. The parent says, 'Oh, he doesn't like it'. They don't understand that sometimes you have to coerce a child to do what's right for a child."

In another case, a father brought in his 19-month-old daughter and asked how much television she should be watching. "I said, 'None, or very little'," Dr Theakston said. "He said, 'But she cries if we turn it off'. They can't accept temporary distress in a child for the child's long-term benefit."

Dr Theakston, a GP for 18 years, smacked her own three children when they were young and believes parents need the right to smack.

"This is short-term pain for long-term gain."

However, a Manukau GP, Dr Frank Gilchrist, said he would not distinguish parents who could not control their children from those who treated their children too harshly. "I think they are the same parents," he said.

"They don't know how to control, they react more depending on how they feel at the time. The same kids that run amok one day are getting a bash over the ear the next day."

He said children should be taught parenting techniques in school.

Dr Theakston said her own experience was that the best support for parents was a group of other parents, but that today's working parents found it hard to attend such groups.

- NZ Herald

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