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When You See Red

Barbara Beach

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 classroom, there are discipline problems. In this classroom, the teacher thought she was using the best discipline techniques. But child psychologists say she wasn't.

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.

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

1. Form a circle. Children sitting in a circle without a table enables everyone to see each other.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Learn about uniquenesses. Help children understand that not everyone is the same or thinks the same. And that's okay.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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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