8 Building Blocks for Effective Discipline


Here are 8 building blocks for effective discipline to turn a negative classroom into a positive place where children want to be.

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Megan won’t leave Suzie alone, so the teacher separates them. Joey and Travis don’t want Jason to play with them, so the teacher makes them all play together. Sarah talks incessantly, so she’s sent to timeout for five minutes.

Sound familiar? In every class, there are discipline problems. In this class, the teacher thought she was using the best discipline techniques. But child psychologists say she wasn’t.

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According to Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn, authors of Positive Discipline in the Classroom, classroom discipline should be internal discipline that’s based on children disciplining themselves. This kind of discipline turns a negative classroom into a positive place where children want to be.

You can use discipline that nurtures children’s respect for themselves and others by making a paradigm shift. First, you must determine who you want to be in control of behavior—the child or you? If you’re in control, you’ll need to regulate a child’s behavior through rewards and punishments. But these authors say kids can’t learn self-discipline if teachers use external controls.

“Emphasizing stickers, food, or threats makes the teacher responsible, not the kids,” say Nelsen, Lott, and Glenn. “It’s the teacher’s responsibility to catch students being good and reward them, or catch them being bad and punish them. But what happens when the teacher isn’t around?”

Once a teacher decides to help children take responsibility for their actions and behavior, true learning and character development will occur in the classroom.

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Through monthly classroom meetings, you can help kids learn how to discipline themselves. Here are eight crucial elements to a classroom meeting:

  • Form a circle. Children sitting in a circle without a table enables everyone to see each other.
  • Practice compliments and appreciations. At first, structure the compliments. For example, have kids tell about a time someone said something that made them feel good about themselves. Or perhaps children can thank each other for kindnesses.
  • Create an agenda. Before each meeting, have kids and teachers make a list of agenda items. The agenda will involve problems in your classroom that need to be dealt with.
  • Develop communication skills. Help kids learn how to take turns, make “I” statements, look for solutions rather than blaming others, show respect, see each problem as a win-win situation, and develop guidelines.
  • Learn about uniquenesses. Help children understand that not everyone is the same or thinks the same. And that’s okay.
  • Solve problems together. Have kids role play problem situations and brainstorm and record solutions. Have the person who mentioned the problem choose the most helpful suggestion. This helps kids think about the long-range results of their behavior.
  • Recognize the four reasons people do what they do. Teach children that misbehavior is usually motivated by one of these four needs:
    Attention—“The teacher never notices me so I make funny noises.”
    Power—“The teacher tells me to do something I don’t want to do, so I pretend to obey him.”
    Revenge—“Kelly called me a name, so I said she was ugly.”
    Giving up—“I can’t read, so I do something I’m not supposed to do during Bible-reading time.”
    Train children to discern these motivational behaviors and look for ways to encourage children who display them. For example, if a child is giving up on reading, children could point out all the things the child is good at.
  • Apply logical consequences. In a classroom meeting, children actually discuss problem behaviors and determine the consequences. In positive discipline, the four R’s of logical consequences are:
    Related—the consequence is directly related to the behavior;
    Respectful—the consequence is enforced with dignity and respect;
    Reasonable—punishment is not added to make children feel bad; and
    Revealed—children know in advance what the consequences are.
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Problems are bound to occur in the classroom even after a good classroom meeting. And when they do, don’t forget your goal of working with kids to help them learn self-discipline. Form a partnership with children using these ideas:

  • Give choices. Make difficult problems easier to solve by offering children at least two appropriate and acceptable choices. With young children, say, “Would you like to draw a butterfly or a bird?” With older kids, give a choice such as “Would you like to pantomime one of the Bible parables? You choose the parable.”
  • Follow through. Avoid lecturing to solve a problem. Stick to the issue using 10 words or less. Or use a pantomime gesture or one word. For example, if Amy won’t help clean the room, ask, “What do you need to do before you go home?” Then point to the scraps on the floor or say, “Clean.” If she wants to leave before she completes the job, lead her back to the scraps until she finishes it.
  • Redirect behavior. Ask questions to change a behavior. When the class is too noisy, ask, “How many of you think the class is too noisy for you to concentrate? How many do not?” The question usually causes kids to think about what needs to be done about their behavior.
  • Do nothing. Instead of trying to respond to each problem, see what happens. For example, some children may interrupt too much. You may discover children stop interrupting or other kids ask them to stop as you allow for natural consequences.
  • Respect kids’ right to control their behavior. Even God lets us decide what’s best for ourselves. Make kids feel respectful by showing respect. Treat kids like they’re your peers.
  • Say no with dignity. It’s a problem if all you ever say is no. But when you do say no, avoid lengthy explanations.
  • Talk less, act more. Listen to yourself. You may discover all the useless words you use. For example, instead of asking children to be quiet over and over, wait quietly for them to give you their attention. Or flip a light switch if it gets too noisy.
  • Avoid pointing fingers. If one or two children are whispering, don’t call their names. Simply say, “Kids, it’s too noisy in here.”
  • Use a cool-down corner. A positive timeout gives kids a chance to take a break for a short time and try again as soon as they’re ready to change their behavior. Say, “When you’re in the cool-down corner, do something to make you feel better such as reading a Bible storybook or holding this Care-Bear” rather than “Go to timeout, stay there, and think about what you did.”
Active Learning in Cradle Roll

by Barbara Beach

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