Children are people like the rest of us. They happen to be small. They deserve the same respect we expect for and from adults. Part of being a child is not having the answers to many things we may have as adults. Children need positive role models, healthy environment, right amount of challenge, plenty of time and opportunity to grow, gain knowledge and develop skills. These are all parts of becoming mature and articulate adults.
When I hear someone refer to a child as “bad” or uttering the words “you are being bad” I cringe. The child is not being bad, it is the behavior that is not desirable or acceptable. It is because the child has limited language and cognitive ability to express emotions and thoughts. It is the process to learn to make a good decision. How can he replace the undesirable behavior with an acceptable one? By discipline and consequence or by understanding the behavior, finding the source of it and building a relationship with the child to gain trust to provide support? I go with the latter. Here is why…
Discipline in traditional meaning and consequence are like band-aide. You put it on the wound and stop the bleeding for a while. Because the wound is not properly treated, the band-aid can stop the bleeding only for a short time period and it cannot prevent a possible infection. Lack of treatment may prolong the healing time as well. This happens all because the wound is not treated well. Undesirable behavior is the same as the improperly treated wound. We need to take the time to understand why the child is presenting the behavior. We need to observe and try to find if there is a pattern and or a trigger. What is the source of the behavior? How can we find all these answers? We need to build a relationship with the child to be able to connect and to have open conversations. This happens only if we gain the child’s trust. I admit that this takes time but the best doctors pay attention to every detail, assess the patient very carefully and take all necessary measures while treating the patient.
Correcting a child’s behavior requires the teacher and other partners ,including the parents, to work together. Observation, assessment, planning, addressing the behavior, assessing and planning again. The cycle continues until the desired outcome is accomplished. Discipline, consequence or punishment, no matter how we slice it or dice it, often times back fires. How? The most common result I have seen over and over again is the repeat of the same behavior or worse, bullying others, being unable to control anger, developing negative thoughts and feelings about school, class or the teacher. The cycle continues… more consequence, more aggressive behavior, defiance, loss of respect, lack of self confidence, blaming self, disconnect from the rest of the world, feeling of pressure and failure. The older the child is, the stronger the feelings grow and the more problematic the outcomes are.
We need to give children a good road map to follow, the tools they need to scaffold and build. They are tomorrow’s adult citizens and what we do or do not for them today greatly matters.