Quebec distinct in nursery too, poll finds

By Erin Anderssen and Anne McIlroy
April 3rd., 2004 - Globe and Mail

Quebeckers have a distinct approach to raising their children and are far less likely to slap or spank them than parents in the rest of the country, a poll has found. Only 22 per cent of Quebeckers said they used corporal punishment in a Globe and Mail/CTV poll of Canadian parents conducted by Ipsos-Reid. Nationally, 42 per cent agreed with the statement that they had spanked or slapped their children for disciplinary reasons.

Quebec parents stand out on several fronts, from their attitudes toward early-childhood education to their skepticism about products touted as baby-brain boosters a mark, experts say, of the lead the province has taken on early-childhood policies such as subsidized daycare.

Albertans, at 60 per cent, were the most likely to have used corporal punishment, with British Columbians next at 52 per cent. Parents in other provinces, including Ontario, were close to the national average. The ages of the children didn't appear to matter; the results were consistent among parents of children under 5, children aged 6 to 11 and those over 12.

"I wouldn't spank my kids. No, never. It is not an option," says Kerry Medland, who lives in Chelsea, Que., not far from Ottawa. "I think there are better and more effective ways to discipline." When her 20-month-old daughter Danielle starting biting, for example, Ms. Medland used time-outs to teach her that such behaviour is unacceptable. Danielle would have to sit in a quiet spot for a brief period, usually less than minute.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that parents can spank or use force on their children provided it is minimal and not the product of frustration or rage. But many Canadians might consider that ruling outside of the court's jurisdiction. Nationally, the survey found that 60 per cent of Canadian parents agree with the statement that politicians and the courts are too involved in making decisions about how they parent.

Again, Quebec was unlike much of the country. Only 51 per cent of Quebec parents interviewed agreed that government and the courts are too intrusive on child-rearing, about the same percentage as in Atlantic Canada. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 84 per cent agreed and in Alberta it was 74 per cent. British Columbia and Ontario were close to the national average.

Quebeckers were also less likely than most Canadians to agree that using flashcards and playing classical music for young children boosts their intelligence an opinion that is backed up by researchers who say there is no concrete evidence that either of these activities has such a benefit.

Nationally, Canadians were almost evenly divided on these issues, with 49 per cent of parents saying they believe Mozart could make their babies smarter, and 53 per cent saying that flashcards could do the trick. Regional differences were largest on the flashcard question: About seven in 10 parents in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba agreed that flashcards increased brain power, along with about 60 per cent in Ontario, Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. By comparison, one in four Quebec parents agreed.

They were also much less likely to agree that low-income families benefit most from early-childhood education. Only 31 per cent of Quebeckers agreed, against 57 per cent nationally. Again, public opinion in Quebec is backed up by the latest research, which shows that middle-income children are also at risk of arriving at school without the language or social skills to do well.

Why the differences? Jane Jenson of the Canadian Policy Research Network said it is probably because Quebec is the only province in Canada that has made a commitment to early-childhood education, and not just to daycare. Every subsidized daycare in the province follows a formal, age-appropriate curriculum, even small, home-based ones.

"It is based on child-development knowledge," said Dr. Jenson, who is also a professor of political science at the University of Montreal. "The emphasis is on school readiness, and also on basic skills in terms of language, socialization, the peer group. There is also a health component. The teachers are trained to watch for developmental delays, for hearing difficulties, for seeing difficulties, and recommend that parents take them to doctors."

This approach is followed in many Western countries, but not in North America, Dr. Jenson said, adding that "we are way behind," except in Quebec. "Quebec politics in the last 20 years has paid serious attention to families and children, where it has been much more recent in other provinces." Dr. Jenson said there is a lot of parental involvement in the province's daycare centres, and some parenting programs are offered for those having difficulty. Parents also have access to help through the local health centres. "They have help sorting through whether flashcards pay off or not, and they have help if they are having trouble managing their kids," she said.

The Globe and Mail survey of 648 parents also found that most Canadian moms and dads seem satisfied with the job they are doing as parents. A strong majority of Canadian parents say they are doing as well (50 per cent) or better (43 per cent) at raising their children than their own parents did.

However, they said they fret more than their parents did about how their children perform in school. Six out of 10 said they worry more than their parents did. More than 60 per cent said they are more permissive with their children than their parents were with them. And almost 70 per cent said they spend more time with their growing families than their parents did.

In general, parents see children today as overscheduled. But while 71 per cent said parents don't allow their children enough time to be kids, only 28 per cent agreed that they had enrolled their children in too many activities, compared against what their own parents did.

A poll this size is considered accurate to within 3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, although the margin of error is larger in the regional results.