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Discipline Problems at School: Part Two


In Discipline Problems at School: Part One, the issue of discipline problems at school was discussed. A primary concern with bad behavior was for an intervention effective in creating positive and lasting change.

Discipline, of course, varies according to the philosophy of the person administering it. On the one hand we have a rather rigid approach, an imposing of will. It employs fear and the promise of uncomfortable consequences for future infractions. It’s an effective approach in some instances, provided we keep in mind that fear is a motivator only when it continues to be applied. It’s not exactly the ideal way to develop a long-term relationship.

But would there be occasions to use it? Of course. It could well be the intervention of choice when a behavior poses an immediate threat to the safety of the youngster or others. If I caught my three-year-old grandson running out into a busy street, I’d impose my will; no questions asked. It would not be a time for lengthy negotiation.

On the other hand, we have an approach that is more problem-solving than will-imposing.  Dr. Ross Greene calls this sort of disciplinary approach “collaborative”. It stems from his belief that bad behavior is the result of an unresolved problem or lagging skill. Solution: Solve the problem; teach the skill.

(In his book, Lost at School, Dr. Greene offers this mantra: “Children will do well if they can.” Although I certainly agree with him in principle, I have worked with a few students who knocked the top out of achievement scores but weren’t doing enough to pass the grade they were in. They had no deep-seated problems I could discern other than being difficult and defiant from the day they first entered this world.)

Let me draw from the expertise of folks like Doctors Ross Greene, Becky Bailey, Marvin Marshall, William Glasser and myself in suggesting a three-step outline for resolving discipline issues with a youngster whose bad behavior is chronic. (Remember, this is an outline. For more information on any of these folks and their work, try a Google search.)

Step One: Dissect episodes of the bad behavior to see if there are any patterns … elements that are repeated in each occurrence. If so, breaking down the patterns would be an initial intervention. The youngster’s skills in social, emotional, and cognitive functioning should also be assessed. Are there any areas that could use some work?

Step Two: Interview the youngster in a manner that authentically draws his insight and interpretation of the bad behavior. This step is for gathering information; it should encourage the child to “open up”. I see this step as being very similar to Motivational Interviewing, a nondirective approach to what might be fueling the behavior.

(Be mindful there are some kids who struggle with words for describing emotional experiences. There’s a term for this condition: alexythymia. It’s no secret that youngsters who can’t express their frustration verbally often do it physically instead. This is how some bad behavior happens in the first place.)

Step Three: Jointly work with the youngster on how he might change his behavior to create a more desirable outcome. This might include role-play, social skills training, or structured plan for how the youngster could handle the same provocative situation better “next time”.

(Hmm … if that “next time” business sounds a bit like Glasser’s Reality Therapy from the 60s and 70s … it is! If a great idea is still holding its charge 40+ years later, it’s got to be a classic!)

Regardless of whether you call it Reality Therapy (Glasser), Collaborative Problem Solving (Greene), Conscious Discipline (Bailey), the Raise Responsibility System (Marshall) or Constructive Confrontation (Sutton), the “secret” is making the youngster an active component to the solution. 

To the fullest extent possible, use any ideas for change the youngster provides. This serves to ensure he is more “invested” into the intervention used. It also lets him know you take his thoughts and suggestions seriously.


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.

July 9, 2010 - Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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