The further into discipline we get, the more positive it should become

That’s what I was taught. But the exact opposite usually happens. And it starts very early. 

The focus is more often than not on behavior - getting them to behave in ways we want them to, to make what we’re trying to do easier for us. Many things we want them to do would also be good for them. 

Some kids come to school behaving in ways that may make what we want to do with them harder. It’s easy to get frustrated. But this can be exacerbated by teachers demanding obedience. Most adults don’t realize the important role their expectations play in their interactions with kids. They perceive kids’ behavior as being the sole cause of their emotional and behavioral reactions to what they perceive as misbehavior. Demanding obedience instead of simply wanting and inviting cooperation can set adults up to find more to get upset about, and cause adults to overreact emotionally and behaviorally. It creates a bigger gap between expectations and reality. Even the label of “misbehaving” is the product of a cognitive choice rather than some given. It’s why some might smile at the same behavior that others might go ballistic over. 

I encourage adults to see behavior they don’t like as the mere tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of important stuff going on beneath the surface. I also encourage them to see it as a symptom. It’s a symptom of thoughts and feelings a child or teen has. Many times those are dysfunctional with respect to the situation they find themselves in. Other times they are an understandable reaction to what we might say or do. At the very least, they are understandable given that they are human, and kids, and what their life experiences have been. 

Imagine a doctor who never takes a patient’s history into account, doesn’t consider symptoms or signs they exhibit, and prescribes the same medicine for every patient who comes to him complaining about being sick. Then, if it doesn’t work, he keeps prescribing more of the same without every running any diagnostic tests. Or, suppose a doctor just prescribes OTC meds to give symptom relief. In either case, the underlying problem could get worse. These two scenarios are analogous to how discipline gets handled in most classrooms and schools. 

The way teachers are prepared for the classroom is analogous to doctors being trained without much knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and how it can go wrong. Teachers are going to have to do more than simply teach their subjects. They are going to have to deal with behavioral challenges that get in the way of their teaching, and kids learning. Such behavior is often driven by emotions kids have that they can’t manage. Ultimately, those emotions are caused by the thoughts they have about themselves, others, life and what has happened to them in the past, and how all that interactions with their present circumstances. Attitude is always the father of behavior. Teachers need to be better trained in how young minds work, and how they can go awry. They also need to be taught the common untoward effects of the usual punitive approaches to discipline issues, and given alternatives. 

Kids need limits. There’s nothing wrong with consequences for violating such limits, as long as they are related, reasonable, and dispensed in a respectful way. But the way teachers respond to such violations very early in kids’ lives can make all the difference in whether we get cooperation or create a chronic problem situation for ourselves, the student and other teachers in the future. 

There’s two ways to make something you don’t like worse, do nothing and overreact to it. Then there’s that old saying, “You get a lot more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”. Which you use will ultimately depend on your mindset. There are some “tools” that can help teachers get in the best possible mental and emotional place to manage troubled and troublesome students in the best possible ways. You can read about them at:

You can also read about a way to make discipline more positive. It's a way I developed and have successfully used with the most troubled and troublesome students in schools, and even correctional faciliities.