Analyzing Discipline Problems
The first step in exercising your judgment is to examine your goals for discipline. It is crucial that no discipline approach damage a child’s growth in self-esteem, self-discipline, and moral autonomy.. We attempt to explain how inappropriate forms of discipline counteract progress toward these long-term goals. Rewards, punishment, and other coercive approaches to discipline have become mainstream practices; teachers must understand that these practices work against their long-term goals.
Short-term goals are also important, although meeting them must not conflict with long-term goals. There are certain behaviors that are so disruptive or dangerous that they must be stopped immediately, leaving the teaching aspect of discipline for the next step. If children’s actions put them into danger, it is essential to act quickly and decisively. Talking directly to the children involved is much more productive than yelling directions across a room. An emergency situation may require a warning shout, which will be useful if the teacher’s voice is usually calm and controlled. However, teachers who routinely raise their voices in an effort to control a group will find that a raised voice quickly loses effectiveness.
Finding the Cause of the Problem
If the situation is not an emergency, or after an emergency situation is over, you are free to think about the most appropriate discipline approach for long-term goals. This step requires a search for the cause or causes of the discipline problem. Many times you will find several interactive causes of a problem. This means you need to address several causes in order to provide effective help. Discipline that deals only with the symptoms rather than the causes of behavior problems is doomed to failure; the problem behavior will continue to surface until the reason for that behavior is addressed. Too often teachers respond to the behavior instead of the causes (Flicker & Hoffman, 2002). This problem is well demonstrated in schools with posted sets of rules and the pre-planned punishments for breaking each rule.
The causes of a problem are not always obvious, and it may take serious study and even some trial and error to get at the root of the matter.
As you start to search for the cause of a child’s behavior problem, first ask yourself whether the offending behavior may simply be typical of that child’s stage of maturation. Some adults don’t realize, for instance, that a 2-year-old is not being naughty when she wets her pants. These adults might punish the child or try bribing her in efforts to change this behavior, unaware that a 2-year-old who isn’t potty-trained is exhibiting maturationally normal behavior. The child can’t change the behavior until she is older. Your soul-searching may reveal that the “problem” is actually adult intolerance or a misunderstanding of childlike behavior (Landy, 2002). In that case, the cause of the problem is the adult’s attitude, therefore, that attitude, not the child’s behavior, needs to be changed.
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