Positive Discipline – written April 22, 2009

I recently attended a course to be trained in teaching students with special needs, such as ADHD, dyslexia etc. And my ‘major’ was in teaching students with EBD (emotional behavioral disorders) which basically accounts for a lot of the students in neighbourhood schools. As we would joke, any one that is undiagnosed with ADHD falls into this category, giving us a lot of opportunities for discipline everyday.
During the course, as I learn about different strategies we can use to teach and manage such students, it also gave me insight on disciplining my own children (Caleb specifically since the baby’s too cute to be disciplined. haha!) I was even patting myself on the back for some of the strategies that I’ve already been using.

One thing that struck me was a point they kept emphasizing: 5 positive to 1 negative. Which means for every negative consequence that the children receive, whether a punishment or scolding, they should get 5 positive consequences for what they’ve done right or well. In other words, we should remember to praise for the good, not just scold for the bad. This is something we so easily fall into as teachers and parents because we get frustrated and upset by the bad and so we react by scolding or punishing. But we forget to praise for good behavior, we just take that for granted.

I’m not saying of course, that we have to praise for every little thing. Some things should be taken for granted. Such as something like they should swallow their food and not spit it out. Imagine praising for every swallow. 🙂 But other times, especially when you are teaching them a new skill, praise and praise. It will encourage every child, no matter what age. I remember Caleb at one year old already craving praise. He will put away his blocks just to hear me say ‘good job’. Easy to teach him to put away toys. 🙂

Praise is positive. And I’ve learnt that a positive environment makes everything a whole lot nicer, whether at home or in the class. Eg. When a student acts up in class, does something funny like put his leg over his head (yes, it happens..) I could (1) scold him, (2) laugh at it. I choose to laugh. Everybody laughs too including him and we get on with the lesson. If I had reacted negatively and gotten angry, he may have gotten angry in return (negative draws on negative) and the whole situation would have gotten worse and the lesson disrupted.

At home, we can create a positive environment by making it a habit to say thank you, please and praise and praise. Our kids emulate us. So if you want them to respect you, make sure you respect your spouse and vice versa. My husband says thank you for the meals I make, so my son says thank you too. I say ‘good job’ for the tower my son built, and he says ‘good job’ to the one his dad built. Isn’t that nice? But not everyday’s a sunny day. I remember one time I was so frustrated with Caleb that after I’d spanked him, I was still talking to him in a ‘fierce’ tone, “Caleb, put away your toys”, “Caleb, come here”. Till my husband pointed out, “Why are you still mad at him?” That woke me up. I have delivered the consequence for his bad behavior already so I shouldn’t stay mad at him. Remember, punish the behavior, not the person. Hate sin, love the sinner. 🙂

Another thing I learnt at the class was about positive reinforcement vs punishment. Both are necessary but we need to know when to use which. Case study: My son was being toilet trained, he still is. We used to spank him when he has an accident. He really didn’t like going on the toilet. It was always a tug of war. Then I thought of a way to motivate him, to reward for right behavior instead of punishing for bad behavior. So we came up with a “Potty Chart”. Those who’ve been to my place would have seen it. 🙂 For every time he told Mommy he needed to go potty and went on the toilet, he would get a sticker. And for every 5 stickers, he would get a present. It worked almost immediately! He got the first 3 stickers with no accidents. I was super amazed myself. Then he had an accident, did it in his pants. So Mommy took away a sticker. As I ripped it off the chart and tore it (for dramatic effect. So cruel right?), he was saying “Mommy I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and crying. I think that worked better than any spanking. It meant he lost something he liked. I told him I knew he was sorry but that was the consequence. From then on, I’m proud to say, no more accidents! That was about a month ago. Good job, Caleb!

Sometimes we should try rewarding for good behavior instead of punishing for bad. This is a way of teaching alternate behavior to replace a bad behavior (also something I learnt in class. I’m not so smart on my own. Haha). Remember if we just punish for bad behavior, sometimes the poor kid still doesn’t know what is expected of him. So we show them what is the expected behavior and encourage them to keep performing it.

The other issue is about punishment and I know some people are against corporal punishment or spanking. We spank in our house. But in a calm, measured way. Here are my tips on spanking (that I’ve learnt from different people): (1) no need to raise your voice or yell. Just explain what the kid has done wrong and what he’s getting a spanking for (2) spank no more than 3 times. When you keep going at it, you’re just venting your own anger or frustration. That can border on abuse (3) hug and kiss after the spanking, after the kid has said sorry. And remember to move on from there, no need to stay angry.

People I know who don’t spank often use the ‘naughty corner’. And I think that can work too. I use both methods anyway. My version is ‘time out’, which I use for both students and Caleb. When Caleb is disobeying and being rowdy, especially when we’re out, I get him to stand by Mommy and ‘you can’t go until Mommy says so’. I find this useful to break his momentum (of running around or jumping around or going crazy) and especially when we’re out and we don’t want to spank him in public nor make a scene, this works. Then again, it depends on the kid. We have to teach them ‘time out’ at home. Practice makes perfect. 🙂

In case you think I’m so free to write such a loooong blog, the boys were sleeping but now the older one just walked out and smiled at me so I’ll sign off here. If you have any ideas, suggestions, methods of training and disciplining children, do share!
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