Ask 'naughty' children for their side of the story - expert

Forget smacking - one expert is now saying parents shouldn't discipline at all without first hearing their child's version of events.

Dr Anna Martin has been carrying out research into the effects and effectiveness of different forms of discipline on children. She told The AM Show on Thursday parents are too quick to assume they know what's going on, when they really don't.

"As soon as we hear some sort of commotion we've actually decided what's happened, how it's going to unfold and what we're going to do about it before we're even aware of that," the family therapist said.

"That's all because there's a whole lot of beliefs - our childhood experiences come into play, socio-cultural experiences come into play. We really need to stop first and go, 'Hold on - I don't actually know what's happened here. I need to go and ask my child.'"

Without taking that step, she says children are often left bewildered and confused - and none the wiser about why they're being punished.

"There was one participant in the study - she heard a commotion in the other room. She assumed that it was her son who had hit his little sister - unfortunately it was the other way around, but she punished the son without finding out what actually happened because she herself was bullied as a child, so she immediately projected that onto the situation."

If no one's in danger, Dr Martin says parents should ask questions first.

"Parents held some pretty strong beliefs about children generally - they believe they cause trouble, and they believe they really should just do as they're told. If you're approaching discipline with those thoughts in mind, it's not going to be that productive."

What about smacking?

Though it might be difficult at first, in time the child will come to respect the parent more - leading to fewer incidents where discipline is even necessary.

And smacking never is - not that most parents want to use violence.

"Parents don't want to smack - they just don't know what else to do. It's fear-based - parents think if I don't discipline my child, if I don't give them a smack, I'm going to raise precocious, spoiled children. That's just not the case - it's a real fallacy."

Rates of youth crime, as measured by appearances in the Youth Court, have plummeted - down more than 50 percent since the introduction of the so-called anti-smacking law in 2007.