Photo of the day

Love this from National Geographic photographer Cory Richards’ instagram feed.  Lighting is everything.

When school kids misbehave

I really liked this article from last month about re-thinking school discipline.  It resonated with me on many levels.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t? [emphasis mine]

That part above strikes me as so true.  I had a parenting epiphany about 7-8 years ago where I was threatening David with punishment by taking away his favorite thing in life (time to play is video game).  He kept misbehaving even as I threatened to take away more and more time from playing.  Then it hit me– David’s brain was literally incapable of conforming to my behavioral expectations at that moment.  Of course, David hated the prospect of not playing the game, yet he continued his misbehaving in the same way.  It struck me that he wouldn’t have continued the misbehavior unless he literally couldn’t control it.  It changed how I parent.

Just last summer, Alex (the one with autism and intellectual disability) was in a summer program and when I walked him  to pick him up they basically had him in a coercive hold and told him they wouldn’t let him go until he agreed to calm down.  But his brain was literally incapable of agreeing to calm down at that moment, because all he could think about was his need to get out of that coercive hold.  It was very frustrating to see.  Alex was not back in that program this summer.

More on the matter…

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

I actually have cousin Ross’ book (kidding, I’m not actually related to any other Greene’s out there) on my shelf but never got around to reading it.  From my perspective, though, he’s clearly onto something and the more these ideas catch on with schools in helping kids with behavioral problems, the better.

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