Analyzing Discipline Problems (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Inappropriate Adult Expectations

The next step in finding the cause of a behavior problem involves examining whether or not inappropriate adult expectations may have created the problem. Inappropriate adult expectations may include those that are incompatible with an individual child’s temperament, those that conflict with a family’s culture, those that do not reflect gender differences, and those that are a poor match for children’s maturational levels.

When we reflect on the unique personalities of children in our care, it is clear that we cannot have the same expectations of all. As we become more aware of diverse ways of viewing and responding to experiences, we can better match interactions and expectations to those differences.

Adults create problems when they require young children to sit still and be quiet for more than a few minutes, to wait with nothing to do, or to engage in learning activities designed for older youngsters. The National Association for the Education of Young Children offers guidelines for appropriate programs (Bredekamp, 1997) and curriculum (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995) that teachers can consult to make sure discipline problems are not being caused by an inappropriate environment.

If you suspect that the environment is causing children to react negatively, the solution is to change the situation rather than try to change the children. This preventive discipline approach saves both teachers and children a lot of trouble. The adult response in the following example demonstrates the value of planning to better meet a child’s needs.

After eating lunch each day, the children in the child-care program are expected to clear off their table setting and sit back down to wait for a teacher to call them to brush their teeth. Sometimes there is no wait time, but sometimes it can be a couple of minutes, depending on how many children have finished eating. Sheri knows this is not an ideal situation, but it seems to be the only way to handle the tooth brushing with 20 children and only two sinks.

The children don’t seem to have a problem with this, with the exception of Sam. Sam sits down for about 10 seconds and then has to get up and move around the room, usually causing a disturbance in the process, or he wanders into the unsupervised kitchen.

Sheri has repeatedly reminded Sam about sitting and waiting his turn. He seems to know what is expected of him but doesn’t seem to be able to do it. Sheri decides that this situation just isn’t appropriate for Sam and makes a plan to accommodate his needs. The chairs need to be stacked to sweep the floor after lunch. This has usually been done by the staff after the kids leave school, but Sheri asks Sam if he would like to help out and be the chair stacker after lunch. Sam jumps at the chance to do this real and important work—and to get to move around and use his muscles instead of trying to sit still. Now Sam is the proud official chair stacker instead of the kid in trouble every day. What a difference this makes to his self-esteem!

The good news is that most solutions to undesirable behaviors can be found by rethinking adult expectations and overall classroom practices (Fox et al., 2003).

Missing Skills

Once you have satisfied yourself that you are accepting children at their maturational level and providing an individually appropriate environment and curriculum, you can go on to look for other causes of discipline problems. Young children have a lot to learn about how to get along, how to deal with their emotions, and how to communicate effectively. If you suspect that lack of skill in any of these areas is causing the problem, a discipline approach that works on needed skills is the solution. Most of us work at developing these skills throughout our lives, so it is to be expected that young children will need help with them.

Adults can demonstrate and assist in desirable modes of self-expression and interacting with others (DeVries, Hildebrandt, & Zan, 2000). Probably the most important and difficult lesson has to do with perspective-taking—understanding other people’s viewpoints. This requires a combination of communication and social skills because people need to be able to express their feelings clearly in order to facilitate an exchange of viewpoints. Teachers can help children find words so that they can share their views and feelings with their peers, thus decreasing egocentricity. Helping children learn how to play with others and make friends goes along with teaching them perspective-taking. Other useful approaches include the use of “I messages” and problem-solving techniques to teach children effective conflict resolution (Gordon, 1989).

Emotion regulation is related to enhanced communication and perspective-taking skills. When children are able to find the words to express their sorrows and frustrations, they have a way of getting support and an acceptable way of letting off steam. When they begin to understand that there may be another side to a situation, they are often comforted. For instance, if children are able to understand that the child who wronged them did so by accident, it often has a calming effect. Similarly, beginning to learn that things don’t always go their way because others also want their own way can help children cope with a disappointment. In addition, most children need specific assistance with learning how to comfort themselves and how to delay gratification. Teaching children social skills, perspective-taking, effective communication, and emotion regulation are important discipline strategies that promote lifelong, harmonious social interaction.

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