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How To Discipline at Play

Sun, 10/01/2006 - 5:00am
Last updated
1 year ago
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When it’s not your child

“I saw Mr. Fussler use his Board of Education,” boasts eight-year-old David, as he returns from taking the attendance sheets to the school office. “Freddie was in there screamin’ and cryin’ as he got his licks. And Mr. Fussler told Freddie that if he didn’t behave, he’d use Sparky, his electric paddle! And he’s got one, too – a GIGANTIC ELECTRIC paddle with sparks bustin’ out all over it! Don't you believe me? It’s hangin’ behind his door!”

A lot of children, by the time they enter second grade, have heard dramatic stories of discipline by school and recreation officials. Some – especially where corporal punishment is policy – may be true. Others, such as David’s spark-emitting GIGANTIC ELECTRIC paddle, are creative figments of a child’s imagination.

When to discipline a child, what discipline methods to use and how much discipline to apply continue to be valid questions that staff repeatedly ask training seminars and parents often wonder about when they take their children with their friends to the playground.

Pediatric health professionals are the first to step up and say that when considering discipline, remember that spanking is NOT a good response. Atlanta based child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Robert Slayden notes that “Corporal punishment may be a short-term solution that leads to long-term problems. Hitting a child teaches that violence and bullying are ways to solve problems, and spanking denies a child the opportunity of learning HOW to solve problems of self-control.”

“Preventive Discipline Techniques,” is what we teach students going into fields where they are with children,” says Drs. William Camp and Betty Heath Camp. They are professors interested in Methods of Teaching in Career and Occupational Education, formerly of Virginia Tech and currently at Cornell University. We advise professionals to:

  • Create an environment that encourages order.
  • Keep the rules simple and clear.
  • Be prepared.
  • Start and end programs on time. Enforce all of the rules consistently.
  • Learn to distinguish discipline problems from other problems.
  • Avoid threats…provide warnings.
  • Avoid head-on confrontations.
  • Record everything.

While Dr. Camp’s focus is on prevention, the National Education Association is a helpful source for determining what to do when problems occur. Find out more at www.nea.org

Below is an excerpt from Inspiring Discipline (1995) by Miriam Merrill and found in the NEA Library. Merrill offers several strategies for setting boundaries and for helping children learn to manage their own behavior. These include:

  1. The Simple Authority Statement: The person in charge voices disapproval authoritatively, promptly and unemotionally.
  2. Redirection: Rather than point out a child’s misbehavior, suggest the child’s energy be directed onto something else worth paying attention to.
  3. The Calm Reminder: Calmly and positively remind the child what he is supposed to be doing.
  4. The Next Time Message: Tell the child directly what is expected next time without shaming or blaming the child for what he just did.
  5. The Check-Yourself Message: This message is helpful when a child become careless. It is a gentle question that asks the child to check what they have done. It implies that when they do so, they will realize what corrections are necessary.
  6. The Silent Response: Rather than immediately and hastily reacting to a child’s misbehavior, a mental note is made and a decision whether or not to discipline the child is made at a later time.
  7. Clock Focus: This strategy can help settle an individual child or a group of restless children, and it also can increase their powers of concentration. The announcement “Clock Focus” is made and all children stand and watch the second hand of a clock make full circles – as many rotations as each child chooses. When they are ready, each child returns to his work or play.
  8. The Visitor’s Spot: The child who is misbehaving is asked to sit or stand close to the person in authority and is told that when he “is back in control” of his behavior, he may return to the activity that is going on.
  9. Honest “I” Statement: Using sentences that omit the words “you,” and “but” communicate feelings and thoughts in ways that allow each person to take personal responsibility. No blaming or shaming is permitted. Sentence stems begin with phrases such as:    
  • I hope
  • I prefer
  • I feel
  • I would like
  • I offer
  • I wish

Children’s author Mike Thaler, who is known for his Teacher from the Black Lagoon series, offers encouragement to parents and staff who advocate constructive discipline. Thaler says, “It’s unfortunate that discipline today is a ‘dirty word.’ Children want and need it. But it’s discipline with love that they need.

“The parents that I see who have the most secure kids are the ones who have given them loving boundaries. The boundaries are not cruel. They are not excessive. They are reasonable, loving and kind, and most of all, they are consistent.

“This holds true, too, for those who are involved in the lives of children. An adult can’t say to a child that something is a boundary today, and the next day when the kid exceeds it, ignore it. Then the boundary has no meaning at all.”

Thaler goes on to advocate that those who work with children encourage their creativity. He has observed that when loving discipline and encouragement go hand in hand, children are more likely to develop personalities that allow them to become happy, contributing citizens.

Editor’s note: Rhonda Borman is a professional speaker and storyteller. She is the author of the audiobook Taking Mama Home and Other Unexpected Experiences and of Dusty Sees the World, a book to help children talk about their fears. These are available on her website, www.rhondaborman.com. Rhonda holds master’s degrees in both psychology and social work, and she has extensive training in child therapy and wellness education. She maintains a psychotherapy practice in Nashville, TN.­­­


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