Welsh mothers less likely to smack naughty five-year-olds

17 October 2008

Welsh mothers are less likely to smack their children when they are naughty than mothers in other UK countries, a new study suggests.

Half of the mothers in Wales questioned by researchers who are tracking the development of more than 15,000 UK children born during the first two years of the new millennium said they never smacked their five-year-old child for being naughty. A further 40 per cent said they rarely resorted to this form of discipline.

Mothers in Northern Ireland were most likely to say they smacked their children. Only 35 per cent reported that they never raised their hand to their child, compared to 45 per cent of mothers in England and 43 per cent in Scotland.

The 2,000 mothers in Wales questioned as part of the Millennium Cohort Study were, however, no more likely to say that they ignored bad behaviour than mothers in other countries. Some popular television programmes offering parenting advice, such as Supernanny, have advocated this tactic to combat attention-seeking. But mothers in the UK appear to have mixed views on the value of this advice.

Around half of the mothers in Wales and the other UK countries told the researchers they rarely or never "turned a blind eye" to bad behaviour and a third ignored bad behaviour only sometimes.

Welsh mothers were, however, slightly less likely to report that their child had a regular bedtime on school days. Only 59 per cent of them said they kept to a fixed time, compared to 64 per cent in England.

Mothers in Wales are also less likely to read to their child every day than mothers in other UK countries, it seems. Only 50 per cent said they did this, compared to 61 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education, London, say that while the inter-country differences in reading habits are interesting the most significant differences in parenting practices are between older and younger mothers and between those with higher qualifications and those with few or no qualifications. In many cases, the older parents of five-year-olds are also those with higher qualifications as professional women tend to have their first child later than average.

"The differences across qualifications levels were highly consistent," says Professor Shirley Dex, a member of the research team. "For almost every activity shared with a child, parents with higher qualifications reported engaging in it more frequently than did parents with lower qualifications. The exceptions were musical activities and visits to a park or playground."

The survey's findings are presented in a report to be published today by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Millennium Cohort Study Third Survey: A User's Guide to Initial Findings. The report can be downloaded from the Centre's website www.cls.ioe.ac.uk.

Notes for editors

Further information from Helen Green, press officer, +44 (0)20 7612 6459, h.green@ioe.ac.uk or David Budge, +44 (0)20 7911 5349, d.budge@ioe.ac.uk.

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre and is devoted to the collection, management and analysis of large-scale longitudinal data. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The MCS 3 survey was co-funded by government departments in the four UK countries.

The third survey of the UK-wide Millennium Cohort Study took place, mostly in 2006, when the children had reached age 5. It involved 15,246 families and 15,460 children because some families had either twins or triplets. Previous surveys of the families had taken place when the children were aged 9 months, in 2001-2, and when they were three years old, mostly during 2004. The study was designed to over-sample families living in electoral wards with high child poverty rates, and in areas of high ethnic minority concentration in England.

The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London, specialising in teaching, research and consultancy in education and related areas of social science and professional practice.

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre and is devoted to the collection, management and analysis of large-scale longitudinal data. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The MCS 3 survey was co-funded by government departments in the four UK countries.