Children learn to use strategies modeled by adults. In particular, I am writing punitive practices such as warnings, threats, and punishments. The child learns to use the same strategies with others whether in the classroom, at home, or in social situations. Youngsters who use threats and punishments to get other kids to do their bidding or try to intimidate weaker kids are called bullies. Kids who threaten or are angrily “in your face” at home are termed oppositionally defiant.
As a teacher, I see anti-bullying programs instigated at schools, but there is sometimes a downside to these programs. The programs and consultations can escalate an already bad situation by making the child feel more guilty, shamed, and punished in hopes he will change his ways.
What surprises me is that the question of where these students learn such behavior is often not considered. Fewer still, see any connection between disciplinary policies and bullying. Sadly, disciplinary policies rarely get to the root of the problem. These policies advanced at school, or remediated by parental talks at home, often don’t help kids identify what is truly bothering them, nor do they find very effective ways to meet the child’s needs.
Here’s a strategy I use in the classroom which could work equally well at home, and is an alternative to punishment. You’ll find less resistance and/or half-hearted compliance to your threats and your anger.
I form a contract or agreement with the students about certain rules that are discussed. Breaking of the rules is breaking of the contract. An agreement will assure the youngster or young adult that their needs are taken seriously, their word is trusted, and their thoughts and concerns are valued. When my students unilaterally agree to the contract, we can move forward, and I am assured that if the agreement is broken, there will be a good reason which can be discussed. There is an intent to identify and address the needs creating the behavior which often results in mutual respect, caring, and cooperation. Obviously, you can discuss agreed upon consequences with the child and use them when you find it necessary.
When an agreement is broken whether in class or home:
1- If the child is endangering someone, such as another sibling, protective force or restraint should be used.
2- Provide time, if necessary, for a shift in energy or cooling down period, before speaking seriously.
3- Show empathy for the person’s feelings and needs. This could be difficult as you yourself may be caught up in the negative emotion engendered by the situation – but, YOU are the adult.
4- When the youngster knows you’ve listened , and you understand his or her needs in the situation, then he’ll be able to see other more effective ways to handle himself. The youngster will also be able to imagine how to do things differently in the future for better results. You can discuss these ideas with the child.