It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Discipline Problems at School, Part One


Few things are more frustrating than for a parent to be called up to the school because of a behavioral issue involving their child. As you might guess, how we manage acting out youngster makes all the difference in terms of outcomes. No one wants their child to become a Frequent Flyer.

Frankly, the behavior of oppositional and defiant youngsters is often of the default variety. They might not be in trouble for what they are doing, but they can be in a ton of trouble for what they are NOT doing. But defiant kids can also be explosive and act out in very unacceptable ways.  

Common to just about all discipline problems are three messages coming from the parents and the school:

  1. The student needs to know his behavior was wrong and should not be repeated.

  2. The student needs to know and understand there are better ways to behave, and that the better ways would benefit him.

  3. It needs to be made clear to ALL students that bad behavior is unacceptable.


Take a close look at these three; they really contain a lot of information. First of all, could a youngster engage in a behavior that he or she did not know was inappropriate?  Depending on the youngster, it is possible. Would that affect the discipline used?

It’s also possible that youngsters might not be completely aware that they could behave differently and see favorable outcomes, outcomes that would work out better for them. (Obviously, having all students behave appropriately because it the right and socially responsible thing to do would be nice, but kids [and adults] are more drawn toward options that benefit them in some specific way.)

Folks who have the assigned position of disciplinarian at school (as if life isn’t tough enough already) are always concerned about the “appearance” of discipline. It needs to be “enough”, but not too much. Discipline has to be fair, but it must also transmit to all students that, for the safety and benefit of everyone, inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.

There are kids who learn pretty quickly that staying out of trouble is much better than staying in trouble. When they really understand that, most any discipline approach will work.

But what about those Frequent Flyers? What defines them, and what does that say about the discipline measures being used? Any kid having most or all of these three characteristics would be a Frequent Flyer:

  1. His or her bad behavior continues on and on in spite of disciplinary actions.

  2. Threats of consequences or promises of rewards seem to have no effect on changing the behavior.

  3. The student does not have the insight or the skills (yet) to achieve the desired change.


If you study these three for a minute, they really point to a child or teen who is the behavioral equivalent to that big oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: it gets worse with no end in sight (at least at the publication of this post). Even if your child is not a Frequent Flyer, chances are his or her behavior is creating ongoing difficulties that you’d like to see stopped.


In his book, Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them (Scribner, 2008), Dr. Ross Greene suggests that when authority attempts to impose its will on some youngsters, the results are not good at all.


Think about it. Getting into a battle of wills with a defiant child often enables the sort of stubbornness that has no other point but to win … no matter what. (And if the question is, “Are we talking about the adult or the youngster?” the answer is “Yes!”) Something has to give, and it isn’t pretty.

Likewise, the tough approach for the child who tends to be cooperative, but is short on insight or skills to comply, would be sort of like going rabbit hunting with a cannon. You might hit one, but you got no more rabbit!

 Greene and others offer an interesting approach to discipline that takes a considerably different tact. We’ll take a look at it in Part Two.


NOTE: This two-part piece on discipline at school was taken from the June and July, 2010, issues of the ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)Management Digest. This monthly publication does not claim to have all the answers, but it is a valued resource for parents, teachers and counselors who find themselves in a battle of wills with a difficult youngster. This resource is provided at no charge, and subscribers have the option to receive it monthly as long as they want, and to opt-out at any time. There are also archives of past issues.

To subscribe to the ODD Management Digest, CLICK HERE, and follow the instructions.


June 29, 2010 - Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Good set up … I am looking forward to part two.


    Comment by tobeme | July 4, 2010 | Reply

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