We’ve all been in settings where we are horrified by how another parent ignored what appears to us to be outrageous behavior. The challenge of a pluralistic community like ours, or any school for that matter, is that the standards and methods among families can be widely variable, and consequently, the expectations for what the school should or shouldn’t do can also vary widely.
The first time your child misbehaves, how do you decide how to redirect - or recalculate in GPS lingo? Most of us learned our parenting skills from our own parents – either following their lead or reacting to it and doing the opposite. Many of us have read whatever the “Dr. Spock” of our generation was - hoping to gain insight from these wise psychologists.
How nice it would be if there were a GPS for childrearing.
Educators and psychologists who study childhood behavior and the methods for shaping it note that there are broadly three different approaches to behavior that have dominated schools and homes in the United States: autocratic, permissive and positive (the latter sometimes referred to as “cooperative” or “responsive”). Generally, society swings between the two poles – autocratic and positive. Permissive grew in prominence in the sixties and is still found in various subcommunities.
Many of us were reared with autocratic methods. The statement, “I expect you to do this because I’m your parent (or teacher)” belongs to the lexicon of autocratic parenting. So does the idea of punishment for poor behavior. While honoring one’s parents is a virtue, behaving solely in response to someone in authority fosters blind obedience. Research has shown too that punishment that is unconnected to the misbehavior teaches some to avoid the behavior and many others to sneak, cheat and hide to avoid punishment.
The idea of “let the child decide what s/he wants to do when s/he wants to” belongs to permissive methods, as does the idea that we just need to talk out our issues with adults and children on equal footing in the discussion. Many children reared in permissive homes struggle with commitment and decision-making, for it can become immobilizing to make any decision when all sides of a story are equally compelling.
The positive discipline model which has been around since the 1930’s has grown in prominence among most educators and it is the one that is in effect at Wornick. It is embedded in The Responsive Classroom program that we use. Central tenants of positive discipline are that all children want “to belong” to their community, misbehavior is generally the result of a mistaken goal about how “to belong” and discipline teaches through logical consequences. The entire system claims to develop an inner locus of control. One of the main proponents of this method, Jane Nelson, writes that a positive/responsive method:
- Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
- Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time)
- Is effective long-term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive = inner control)
- Teaches important social and life skills. (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community)
- Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy)
There are many other distinctions between the two methods – distinctions between what is understood to be the source of misbehavior and the difference between the treatment of misbehaviors that effect others versus those that only effect the offender.
Autocratic discipline belongs in settings where the educational goal is compliance; positive discipline of the responsive classroom belongs to schools that promote critical thinking. The former works when the authority figure is present; the latter helps children develop inner control so that their behavior is suitable regardless of the setting. I welcome future opportunities for us to engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue so that we can be sure that we are speaking the same language and that our values are aligned. In the meantime, use our staff as your GPS when you have a question about behavior. We’re happy “to recalculate” for you.