How old does my child have to be before I can leave him alone at home?

In New Zealand it’s illegal to leave children under 14 on their own without taking reasonable steps for their care and supervision. This is explained more in our Education section. This includes leaving them in a car, or in any situation that can lead to harm.

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How can I prepare myself to deal with bad behaviour from my child's friends?

If you’re going to be looking after children by yourself, it’s a good idea to talk to their parents so that you know what ground rules their children normally live by, and what kinds of disciplinary action is acceptable to the parents. Based on the parent's feedback, set some ground rules - you could involve the children in setting them too, and discuss the consequences of breaking the rules.

Some ideas for ground rules might be:

  • No hitting
  • Staying with the group or a ‘buddy’
  • No name calling
  • Getting someone else’s permission before you use their things
  • Informing the adult if you are going somewhere

If you’re taking them out of town (e.g. camping), you should be prepared for emergencies, for example if someone hurts themselves. You might want to make it clear to the group that you will be the decision maker, especially if they are teenagers. 

If you’re looking after children for an organisation, there will probably be a code of conduct you'll need to follow. 

There’s an article on Childcareonline which discusses this in more detail.                                   

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How do I discipline my child without resorting to smacking?  

Under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act, you can’t hit your child, but you can use reasonable force to restrain your child. Parents and people in the place of a parent are allowed to use force in some situations, while teachers are not. Reasonable force can be used in the following situations:

  • When minimising harm to the child or another person
  • When stopping the child from committing a crime
  • When preventing the child from being offensive or disruptive
  • In the normal tasks that come with good care and parenting

Force is not the same as violence, and includes things like leading your child away by the arm or picking them up. It cannot be used to correct your child’s behaviour. It is left up to police discretion whether or not a complaint is serious enough to be taken to court.

You could consider other more positive forms of discipline for instance:

  • Noticing and encouraging good behaviour
  • Putting the child in their bedroom or other quiet place for a time after explaining what they have done wrong
  • Taking away a privilege e.g. making their bedtime earlier for a week

The Kiwi Families website has ideas for managing your child’s behaviour, depending on the child's age. If you’re really struggling to manage your child and need some more advice, try the Barnardos hotline – 0800 4 PARENT (0800 472 7368).

If you’d like to talk more about this issue, you can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, and they’ll be able to direct you to someone who can help.

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How do I get help with my out-of-control teen?

If your teenaged child has behavioural issues which you have not been able to manage, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can talk to friends, family, your child’s teachers or groups in your community. This article on parenting teenagers on the Kiwi Families website provides general advice and information.

You can also get help and advice from community groups such as:

  • Toughlove – holds support groups around the country for parents of teenagers. Support meetings are structured and include strategies to help you manage your teen’s behaviour. For more information call them on 0800 868 445.
  • Parent Help – their Parent Helpline is 0800 568 856. They also provide family therapy and counselling, parenting education and mediation. 

Your local CAB may also be able to find you a local support group, parenting course or other service to help you.

If you’re worried that your family environment poses a threat to your child’s safety, you can also ask Oranga Tamariki for advice. You can call them on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) to talk to a trained social worker who can give you some practical advice. They won’t take your child away unless they believe the child is in danger or a danger to people around them.

Oranga Tamariki  may also get involved if your teenager is getting into trouble with the law, for example by organising a Family Group Conference. More about this is on our Youth Justice and Youth Court page.

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Where can I find a parenting course?

Several organisations run parenting courses, including:

  • Plunket (aimed at parents of children aged 0 – 5 years). Their courses are free.
  • Parents Centre (also aimed at parents of young children – fees apply)
  • Parenting Place (for parents of children aged up to 12 years or older – fees apply)

A number of smaller organisations also run parenting courses at a local level. Your local CAB can also help you find a course near you.