Critics question discipline

Parent Connection

May 13, 2010 

If you have read Parent Connection over the past many years, you know my thoughts on disciplining children aren't complex. I like to define discipline as parent behavior that corrects child misbehavior

Parents should set fair and age-appropriate expectations for their child, make those expectations clear, and when the child continues to misbehave they should deliver some type of consequence such as time-out, early to bed or grounded. You do this in a calm but firm, matter-of-fact way so it doesn't turn into a game of pushing each other's emotional buttons.

But what about positive discipline? I continue to hear this question, as well as read the literature addressing the emphasis for positive discipline in many of today's schools. Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports programs are being implemented all over the country. In a nutshell, PBIS emphasizes positive ways for students to learn how to be respectful, in control of their behavior, follow directions and do their best work. The thought is to have the majority of students plugging along just fine through a positive learning environment, giving more time and energy to implement additional interventions for those children exhibiting more severe behavior problems. Students are given "tickets" recognizing good behavior. These tickets can then be traded in for various rewards.

The program obviously isn't without criticism, and I can hear some folks now. "What? When I was in school we didn't have teachers handing out stupid tickets to get us to behave! Teachers shouldn't have to waste their time handing out rewards just so they can teach a little readin, ritin, and 'rithmetic!" I hear you, but let's back up to the phrase waste their time. Maybe not. Though more data will continue to be collected on program effectiveness, many school districts are reporting significant reductions in office referrals, school suspensions, expulsions and an increase in student performance. Many teachers are also reporting a significantly improved school environment in which they can teach and students can learn.

Perhaps programs such as PBIS are effective, but the critics' questions still remain. Why is it that educators have to spend all of this time, effort and money just to have halfway behaving children in school? Well, here you are. Ready? Maybe, just maybe, educators wouldn't have to implement positive behavior programs if more parents did their jobs.

Yes, many parents will find my synopsis of parent failure to be offensive, but think about it. If the vast majority of parents held the same expectations for their own children to be respectful, control themselves, follow directions and always strive to do their best, why would your average school need to implement a system wide program? PBIS begins with the expectation that children can be respectful and behave. My suggestion to you as parent is to do the same. If you don't begin with the expectation that your child can exhibit appropriate behavior, don't bother with any type of half-hearted plan to keep them from running wild. It just won't work. Difficult to do? Not al all. There's no better time than now to set high expectations for child behavior.

Bryan Greeson, a nationally certified School Psychologist residing in Gastonia, NC, answers your questions. E-Mail him at

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