Positive Guidance and Discipline Strategies: Description and Explanation (page 7)

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

Set Up Practice Sessions and Give “On-the-Spot” Guidance

Give children a chance to practice what you show or tell them, as Mrs. Vargas did when they practiced passing baskets. Mr. Nellis had observed that Willis did not wait his turn for the computer stations in the K–2 classroom. Consequently, he had taught Willis the steps in getting a turn (putting his name on the list if necessary, checking the list and waiting, and working somewhere else until his name was next). He knew how important it is for children to practice what they have learned and so planned a simple practice session for Willis about waiting for a turn.

Mr. Nellis started the practice session (Mr. Nellis worked with Willis individually) by saying, “Let’s practice waiting for a turn at the computer, Willis. You already know the main things that you have to do. Please tell me the first thing.”

I have to put my name on the list.
Mr. Nellis:
That’s right. Write your name now on this list. (Willis prints his name at the bottom of the list.) Good. Now, check to see how many children are ahead of you.
Sandi and Michael. That’s two.
Mr. Nellis:
Right again! You won’t have to wait very long at all. What would you like to do while you wait?
. . . work on my math.

The next day, Mr. Nellis introduced a new math game to use at the computer and Willis was eager to get a turn. Mr. Nellis gave “on-the-spot” guidance to Willis. He quietly reminded him about how to get a turn and used this real-life situation as another practice session. Willis did very well. He had learned the steps, had practiced them with the teacher individually, and finally had practiced them in the classroom.

Give Signals or Cues for Appropriate Behavior

Children might not remember to do things, in spite of learning how. Cues are hints or suggestions that remind children about a limit in a low-key way. The signals or cues can be verbal, nonverbal, pictorial, or written (for older children). Good cues are developmentally appropriate; they are age- and individually appropriate for a variety of children—typically developing children, children with disabilities, and a child who is learning English.

Example.  At the end of group time Mrs. Vargas verbally reminded the children to wash their hands for snack time. The group sang the action song and then she sent them to the bathroom (the song was the cue or reminder).

Example.  Shortly after that, she showed one of the pictures of a child washing her hands to the group. “Where can we hang this picture so that it reminds us to always wash our hands after going into the bathroom?” (The picture is the cue.)

Example.  The teachers at Oaklawn School (Thompson, Vargas, Claiborne, Nellis, Lee, and others) have many children in their classes who are learning English. The teachers have found that picture cues help these children understand limits and deal with transitions. At transition from work and play time to large group, for instance, Mr. Claiborne showed each child two picture cues, one of a child playing and the other of the child in a circle with other children. At the same time, the teacher described moving from play to large group. (The pictures are cues.)

Encourage Children’s Efforts to Accept Limits and to Be Cooperative or Helpful

Children need more than limits—they also need encouragement for their efforts to accept limits and to behave in a prosocial way, cooperatively or helpfully. There are many ways to encourage children’s efforts.

Promote new behavior that is “self-encouraging”
Think of ways to set things up so that a child will find a new behavior so attractive that he will eagerly comply.

Example.  Larry did not wipe his paint smock when he painted. Mrs. Vargas made a new job for the job chart and assigned that job to Larry for 2 days. The new job entailed being the person who ran the paint smock wash. This person wore a special hat and smock, was in charge of checking all the smocks to make sure they were clean, and was responsible for the new sponge and bucket.

Example.  Mr. Nellis wanted his children to place leftover art paper in a container when they finished a project. He glued a cutout of a hippopotamus head onto a basket and showed the basket plus hippo to the class. His class immediately named the hippo “Harvey,” and Mr. Nellis asked the children to feed their leftover papers to Harvey.

Observe children to determine whether they have learned what they need to learn and whether they have accepted a limit
Mr. Claiborne wanted all children to use a tissue when sneezing and wiping their noses. He taught them how to use the tissue with a demonstration and a song about using tissues. Then he developed a checklist to help him determine who had learned the techniques. He observed the children using a tissue and checked off names when they demonstrated proper technique. He also observed to determine whether children used a tissue at appropriate times.

Recognize and encourage a child’s efforts
Children need support. Recognizing and acknowledging their efforts demonstrates our support and appreciation. Recognize an individual child’s efforts or the effort of the entire group.

Examples.  Two days after introducing Harvey the hippo, Mr. Nellis said to his class at opening group time, “Harvey appreciates getting your leftover art paper and he thanks you.”

The principal visited Mr. Claiborne’s room to read a story for the class. The children had just cleaned up after their morning work period and they sat on the floor for the story time. Mr. Claiborne introduced the principal. He showed a large photo of the entire class with the label “We are good helpers!” He said to the principal, “We have lots of children in this class and we are all good helpers.” He then noted how every child had helped during cleanup.

Change Something About a Context or Setting

Behavior communicates. Behavior does not occur in a vacuum—it happens in a context or setting. The context of a behavior has an effect on that behavior. With these statements in mind, consider reframing or rethinking the concept of a discipline encounter by asking a question. “What can I do about this context, this situation that will help this child be safe or help her choose a different behavior more helpful to the child?” For example, “Do I want to keep telling these two children to stop arguing over the blocks, or can I change something to help them accept the idea of cooperating?”

Three major ways to change a situation to be helpful and to prevent or stop potentially dangerous or inappropriate behavior include

  • changing the physical environment and time schedule,
  • increasing options, or
  • decreasing options.

Change the physical environment and time schedule if necessary
Guide children effectively by managing the environment well.   You can easily change something about a situation by evaluating how you have structured the physical environment. You can then decide that a slight change might be very helpful to children.

Example.  When Mrs. Vargas was a first-year teacher she was surprised to find that the children ran, not walked, from the dramatic play area to the block area. Her principal observed one morning and said that the classroom had a zoom area in it—a tunnel-like space that just invited running. The teacher changed something about the situation by rearranging the room to eliminate the zoom area. The running stopped.

Example.  Mr. Nellis’s student teacher found that his opening large-group time was almost unpleasant because of all the talking and squirming. Mr. Nellis, during the evaluation of group time, asked the student teacher to reflect on how long the lesson had been. The student teacher discovered that the group time was too long and made a simple adjustment. The adjusted schedule resulted in a much shorter, much more productive, and more peaceful group activity.

Increase options available to a child
Authoritative adults closely supervise and monitor activities. They recognize when children need more options from which to choose. They realize that children might be stuck on a nonproductive course of action and require additional information or choices. Here are three practical ways to increase options for children.

Prevent predictable problems.
Prevent problems whenever possible. Authoritative, responsive caregivers understand that young children have a difficult time controlling themselves. They know that it is their responsibility to observe the group for signs that adult intervention is necessary. One way to do this is to identify the times in a group’s schedule when things could go wrong and prevent these problems.

Mrs. Vargas knew that transitions are often stressful for children. Consequently, she made sure that there were as few transitions as possible in the schedule. In spite of this, she had observed and identified two times when transitions were difficult for several of the children. One problem transition was from nap to waking activities. The other troublesome transition was from large group to outside play. She reflected on the transitions and tried to make them as appropriate as possible.

Examples.  Transition from nap to waking activities: Some children awoke from their naps before the others but still had to be quiet. Instead of just asking them to sit quietly, she prevented the potential problem by gathering a special group of toys and books for quiet play and then brought out these materials only after the nap. The children chose one of these activities.

Transition from large group to outside play: The teacher cut out and laminated simple squares of different-colored construction paper, and kept them in a basket in the large-group area. At the end of the activity, each child took one square from the basket. She then sent the five children with blue squares to put on coats, and continued with the other colors. This simple method helped children focus on the transition and seemed to decrease anxiety about it.

Introduce new ideas to children engaged in an activity.  Our goal is to let play sessions unfold and not to dominate play. Occasionally, however, children benefit from getting ideas from adults. Offer a new idea when it would extend the play or help children get beyond an argument. Sometimes children will use the idea, and sometimes they will not.

Example.  Mrs. Vargas noticed that some of the children had worked cooperatively on building a train from large blocks for about 10 minutes. When she heard an argument about who would be the driver of the train, she said, “Here is that book about trains. Look here [points to passengers]. We do need a conductor but we need passengers, too. The conductor helps passengers find a seat on the train.” Ralph immediately shouted, “I want to be the passenger!”

Introduce new materials into an activity.  Assess the situation and decide whether new materials would be helpful. Then decide how to present the new materials to the children. One way is to add the new item, simply and quietly, without comment. Another way is to introduce the new materials to work sessions as needed.

Examples.  Mrs. Vargas gave red or blue tickets and small suitcases to the train “passengers.” She also gave the conductor a hat and a hole puncher with which to punch one hole in each passenger’s ticket. Another time, she brought out plastic farm animals and placed them near the children working on building a farm. A final example took place at the playdough table. After children had worked with dough for one day, she brought out new rolling pins, taught them the term rolling pin, and asked them how they might use the new item with playdough.

Decrease options available to a child
Occasionally, the problem is not that children need new ideas or materials but that they need fewer options. Too many choices can easily overwhelm children, especially impulsive children. Guide children effectively by limiting choices or changing activities.

Limit choices.  Making wise choices is a skill that develops over time. Helpful adults teach young children how to make choices from only a few alternatives.

Example.  Mr. Claiborne knew that Pae (pronounced “pay”) had great difficulty zeroing in on one activity. He helped Pae focus attention and he limited his choices by asking, “You said yesterday that you wanted to write a story about your kitten and you wanted to make labels for your leaf collection. Which of those two things would you like to do first today?”

Example.  A few of Mrs. Vargas’s preschool children had trouble making choices during work periods. She helped them by narrowing the number of choices for them. She made a simple card for each center that was available. Each card had a picture on it signaling that center’s purpose (Figure 4.5)  When Justine arrived at school, Mrs. Vargas showed her the cards and said, “Start with three cards, Justine. Then you will know what you want to do this morning.” Justine carried the three cards and worked in those centers.

Change activities.  Authoritative caregivers understand that a variety of things might affect children’s attention or behavior. They are skillful enough and have enough confidence in their ability to modify plans or to abandon a plan if necessary.

Examples.  Mr. Claiborne had just gathered the entire group for story time when the roaring noise started. The earthmovers had come onto the school grounds to start digging the swimming pool. There goes group time, he thought, but remained calm. To the children he said, “Let’s walk outside and stand out of the way so that we can watch for a little while. Then I’m going to tell you the story of an earthmover !’ ”

Ignore Behavior (Only When It Is Appropriate to Do So)

Ignoring behavior:  no longer paying attention to a specific action. The ignore strategy is appropriate for some behaviors but completely inappropriate for others. Ignoring certain things, when it is appropriate to do so, decreases the number of times that a teacher will see or hear the actions. This occurs because the adult stops giving attention for a behavior to which the adult has mistakenly paid too much attention. The main idea here is for the adult to change what she herself does, reminding herself to stop paying attention to the child’s behavior

Do Not Ignore These Behaviors
I usually like to state things as positively as possible. However, in this section I will use the phrase “Do not ignore . . .” several times for emphasis. Some behaviors are clearly dangerous, destructive, or hurtful. Do not ignore them because doing so might well place someone in danger. I will also describe a better way to approach the situation.

Do not ignore children when they treat someone rudely, embarrass someone, are intrusive, are disrespectful, or cause an undue disturbance.  Young children do some of these things because they might not yet know a better way of behaving, and some older children may act this way because they have not learned to treat others with respect. With younger children, state guidelines and teach the better way. Avoid ignoring inappropriate behavior. Older children must learn from adults to value politeness, to respect boundaries, and to adhere to limits that convey these values.

Example.  Nellie charged right up to the computer station and sat down just as Ralph was about to take his turn. Mrs. Vargas said quietly to her, “You are really eager to work at the computer, but it’s Ralph’s turn right now. Let’s put your name on the list. You’ll get your turn soon!”

Example.  Jordan said to a volunteer who told him that it was time to get ready for lunch, “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not the teacher.” Mrs. Vargas took Jordan aside and said, “Jordan, you were disrespectful to our visitor. It was his job to remind everybody about washing hands before lunch.”

Do not ignore a child who endangers anyone, including himself.  Authoritative adults do not hesitate to forbid certain classes of behavior, including dangerous, aggressive behaviors or behaviors that degrade others. Ignoring dangerous, destructive behavior leads children to believe that the environment is unresponsive to them (Baumrind, 1996). Ignoring aggressive, destructive, or ego-damaging behavior (toward animals as well as people) gives unspoken approval. The aggression will likely increase, which leads other children to think that adults will not protect them from aggressive outbursts.

Do not ignore a child who damages or destroys property.  Again, ignoring such destructive or potentially destructive behavior conveys adult approval. Instead, give children a clear, direct, nonblaming message of disapproval for destructive behavior.

Example.  Mr. Nellis said to a first grade girl who had grabbed the end of a large collage on the wall and pulled, ripping it in half, “Lucy, it is recess time. You will be helping me fix the collage that you’ve damaged before you can go to recess.”

Guidelines for using the ignore strategy

It is safe to ignore some behaviors, usually behaviors that are not hurtful, not destructive, not disrespectful, and not dangerous. In fact, it is a good idea to ignore behaviors such as

  • whining or arguing about limits.
  • any other effort to distract you from following through on a limit.
  • efforts to pull you into an argument.
  • a child’s efforts to try to make you angry.

Adults who use the ignore strategy successfully follow these guidelines:

Tell the child that you will ignore a specific, targeted behavior whenever it occurs.
Mrs. Vargas decided to use the ignore strategy when Nellie argued about limits. The teacher knows that telling Nellie about the strategy will make things easier. So, she politely but clearly told Nellie that she would stop paying attention to her when Nellie argued about a limit, “Nellie, I’ve made a mistake and paid attention to you when you argue about some things. I’m not going to pay attention to you when you argue with me. I won’t look at you, and I won’t talk to you when you argue.”

Realize that it takes time to effectively use the ignore strategy.
The difficulty is that adults usually give a lot of attention to the very behaviors for which their attention has caused problems for the child. When an adult decides to use the ignore strategy, a child who has received so much attention for unhelpful behavior (such as arguing or whining) will be surprised and is likely to increase the intensity of the arguing or whining. Essentially, her behavior says, “Look here, you’ve always argued back when I argue. Now you’re ignoring me. Looks to me like I have to argue more loudly. Maybe that will get your attention!”

Example.  Later that afternoon, Nellie, in her high-pitched voice, argued with Mrs. Vargas about cleaning up the paints. Mrs. Vargas followed through with her plan to stop giving attention to the arguing. Nellie was surprised, although the teacher had explained the procedure. The teacher had paid attention to Nellie’s arguing in the past, giving her what she wanted.

Nellie did not stop after the teacher ignored her arguing only one time. Like most children whose irritating behavior is ignored for the first time, she tried even harder to recapture the teacher’s attention by arguing even more insistently. Her teacher was prepared for the “bigger and better” arguments. She knew that she would have to carry out the procedure at least one or two more times before Nellie finally realized that her teacher really had resolved to stop paying attention to her arguing.

Decide to ignore the behavior completely, to give no attention.
This is difficult because the adult has decided to change her own customary behavior. In order to help herself stop paying attention to and encouraging the arguing, the teacher wrote the following list of reminders:

“Resist the urge to mutter to myself under my breath.”
“Resist the urge to make eye contact.”
“Resist the urge to communicate with this child, either with words or gestures.”

Teach and encourage more acceptable behavior.  Go beyond ignoring a behavior to teaching children some other, more appropriate behavior. Mr. Claiborne ignored Vinnie’s whining but also remembered to teach Vinnie how to ask for things in a normal voice. Mr. Claiborne modeled the “normal” voice.

Redirect Children’s Behavior—Divert and Distract the Youngest Children

Diverting and distracting:  a form of redirection in which an adult immediately does something to distract a child from the forbidden or dangerous activity. The adult then immediately gets the very young child involved in a different activity.

Authoritative, responsible caregivers perform most of an infant’s or young toddler’s ego functions. For example, they remember things for the child and keep them safe because an infant’s or young toddler’s concept of danger is just emerging. Authoritative adults accept responsibility for stopping very young children from doing something by setting limits that discourage certain behaviors, but they do so in a helpful way.

Diverting and distracting the youngest children accomplishes both of these tasks. An adult can be most helpful by immediately doing something to distract the child from the forbidden activity and steering her toward a different activity.

Example.  Mary, 16 months old, walked over to the bowl of cat food, picked up a piece, and started to place it in her mouth. Her father said, “Put the cat food back in the bowl, Mary” (a short, clear, specific limit). Then he picked up Mary and said, “You know, I think it’s time for us to take a walk!”

Redirect Children’s Behavior—Make Substitutions with Older Children

Substitution:  a form of redirection; an adult shows a child how to perform an activity or type of activity in a more acceptable and perhaps safer way. Substitution is an excellent strategy to use with children who are at least older toddlers or young preschoolers. Substitution is a good strategy to use with older children because it acknowledges the child’s desire to plan and engage in a specific activity.

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