We believe that working with and supporting parents in managing the often challenging job of being a parent is an integral part of the fight against physical punishment of children. In all European countries, the use of harsh forms of corporal punishment has gone down significantly in the last decades of the 20th century. The current trend, now, at the beginning of the 21st century, is that more and more parents are convinced that refraining from physical punishment altogether, will make them better parents.
Yet striving towards raising children without smacking and actually living up to this ideal are not always one and the same. A German study carried out in 2002 demonstrates this point: the study reveals that 87 percent of the German parents interviewed consider child-raising without the use of physical punishment as their ideal parenting model, and over 80 percent of parents prefer talking to their children to smacking. However, the study also shows that only 28 percent of parents have never used physical punishment against their child (See Further Reading).
This discrepancy demonstrates that while the will for non-violent parenting exists, at times parents do need support, advice and tools to manage the challenges and conflicts of day-to-day family life in a positive, non-violent way. The feedback from parents that the project “Respect Works out!” received is a case in point. (See Parents' Feedback)
But what exactly is Positive Parenting?
Finding a short definition for positive parenting is not easy. For example, in German, as in a number of other languages spoken across Europe, a literal translation of the term “parenting”is not possible.
However, getting over language barriers is not difficult if you work towards the same goals and share a common vision of a Europe where the new generations of children listen in wonder to the stories told by their grandparents or great grandparents about how, once upon a time, parents used to discipline their children.
For us, Positive Parenting is as an approach to child-raising that fosters a relationship between parents and children based on mutual respect, the facilitation of the child’s full development potential and on the ability to negotiate diverging interests in a non-violent and constructive way. An emphasis on praising good behaviour, setting clear rules, taking time to listen, working as a team, and of course, using positive disciplining instead of physical punishment- these are all part of positive parenting.
Positive Parenting is therefore also essentially an approach that recognises children as individuals in their own right and with a claim to rights. From this perspective, smacking a child becomes the same as smacking a colleague, a neighbour or a friend.
Seeing the parent-child relationship as based on equal dignity and mutual respect corresponds with a wider understanding of children as being entitled to rights. Children, of course, are not adults, but neither are they small adults with small rights. This conceptual change, with its impact on approaches to parenting, is a relatively recent development. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most important instrument for the implementation and monitoring of children’s rights globally, was only adopted in 1989. However, its broad ratification – only two states worldwide, the USA and Somalia, have not signed it- has contributed significantly to this shift in the perception of childrens' role in society.
Positive Parenting – a duty not only of parents
According to the Council of Europe publication “Parenting in contemporary Europe: a positive approach”, parenting is not just a private matter, confined to the four walls of the home. The state has also a duty to support the creation of an environment, where positive parenting can take root- such as the provision of child care that is accessible to all, family-friendly employment policies, as well as services that strengthen positive parenting skills. Hence there is a wider social dimension to parenting - which, as the publication puts it, involves a “community” of key parties” - that include local and national service providers as well as the state.
Read the recommendations on policy to support positive parenting adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2006.