Categories
Behaviour Management

Coronavirus Kids

We are living in a strange time right now. In Ireland and many other countries, we have been thrust into school closures with the advice of keeping children apart to ensure that coronavirus does not spread. This places sudden and sizeable stress on parents and children alike. Although we could see school closures coming, it came quite fast and children may be at home now with no real school guidance on what the best course of action is. Here are a few thoughts below that may be of help to parents or teachers:

Anxious Children

The media sells fear. This is a known principle of how media drives traffic to their websites and purchases of their newspapers. Anxious children do not need to be exposed to a 24-hour newsfeed about a virus they do not fully understand. Adults do not either. Limit the amount of coronavirus related media that children (and yourself) are exposed to. Limit the amount of talk about the coronavirus around children also. There is no need for children to listen to speculation, repeated reporting and scare-mongering which can be sure to contribute to their anxiety. 

Energetic Children

Children are advised not to mix with other children as they can help spread the disease to the more vulnerable. If you have a child with ADHD, ADD or any abundance of energy, this does not mean that you have to lock them inside. The advice seems to suggest being outside is a safe environment. Go to big parks, fields, forests or anywhere in nature where you believe contact with others will be minimal. Teach your child the concept of social distancing like a bubble around other families and explore places that, otherwise, you might not have the chance to explore.

One of the best ways to maintain a calm, positive environment is to make sure a lively child gets an opportunity to burn off some of their energy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise is always a good tip.

Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices!

Educational Activities

As this is an unprecedented event, teachers and parents have been left scrambling at what to do. There has been a noble effort by schools and teachers to direct learning remotely but I believe this is not the way to move forward. 

The teacher may be able to provide some beneficial guidance on applications and websites to utilise or pages in books to complete but this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to experience one-to-one learning that they otherwise would not get.

I would suggest the following list of activities that would be a more beneficial way to spend the bulk of “educational time” while at home:

  • Play board games to teach strategic thinking and problem-solving.
  • Bake or cook dinners together to teach healthy living and weight in maths.
  • Writing out shopping lists for practicing spelling and handwriting.
  • Gardening to teach about science or geography.
  • Paint a fence or a wall to teach about fo
  • Get out into nature for geography and P.E.
  • Play with Lego, mechano or any other construction for science.
  • Get children to dress up in adult clothes for a fashion show for drama.
  • Clean bedrooms and re-organise the house to teach executive functioning skills.
  • Read to your child or have them read to you for English.
  • Listen to podcasts and talk about them for oral language.
  • Bring home a few empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and let them loose with colours, sellotape and scissors for art.

There is a list of exciting opportunities to entertain, education and enjoy time with your children over the next few weeks. Creativity and energy are needed but the chance to teach your own child should be grasped with both hands. It’s also important to note that the whole world will be spending more time watching television and on screens at the moment and we should reflect this with our children. There is nothing wrong with binge-watching television right now to entertain ourselves in the evening when everyone is tired out.

Control the Controllables

There is very little in our control at the moment regarding the wider world but we can control our actions. The important things we need to impress on our children is that there is no need to panic or worry but there is a need to be careful. We should educate our children to:

  1. Wash their hands with correct technique frequently.
  2. Cough into their elbow.
  3. Practice social distancing.
  4. Avoid mixing with their friends in person (encourage calling their friends on phones).

After these four points, there is very little else we can do right now other than take the positives where we can and enjoy the extra quality time with our loved ones. 

Categories
Behaviour Management

Making a game of Good Behaviour

There are many reward systems and strategies out there that claim to improve classroom behaviour. One system that comes with a bulk of evidence to support its claim is The Good Behaviour Game. This is a system which is proven to increase the desired behaviours and is relatively easy to implement: a win-win for teachers.

How to play

  1.  The teacher displays the list of desired behaviours in the classroom. As per best practice, these are few in number and positively phrased. They might include rules such as raising your hand to speak, eyes on the teacher when they are talking etc. 
  2. The teacher divides the class into groups with an even distribution of personality types (disruptive children, withdrawn children, studious children etc)
  3. The teacher initially plays the game for ten minutes daily for the first week. Teams get a point if they break a rule. If they have 4 points or more, they do not receive the reward. Visibly display the points so children can be reminded of the score and what is and is not acceptable.
  4. The teacher builds the amount of time the game is played for week after week. 
  5. The teacher slowly changes the rewards from immediate rewards – such as jellies, stickers or stationary – to deferred rewards such as additional free time at the end of the week, stickers, extra PE, access to iPads later in the day.

Key Considerations

Ensure that your rule list is small with simple-to-follow instructions. Ensure that the reward on offer is genuinely motivating to the target audience.

Do not overuse the strategy straight away, building up time slowly is essential to its success.

Changing the teams, times and rewards can manipulate the game to maintain interest over the course of a full-term if this is your desired strategy.

The beauty of the strategy is it can be explained in a very short time, does not require huge resources to implement and has research to back its effectiveness. 

Add it to the toolkit and pull it out when required. Enjoy!

Categories
Behaviour Management

How to End the Tale of Telling Tales

Teachers can have an aversion to children telling tales after lunch and break time. Children can feel the need to report every misdemeanour they have ever witnessed on the yard to the class teacher upon their return. Some students can be compelled to do this even after reporting it to the supervising teacher and watching as the teacher dealt with the situation. There are students out there that just love to retell the drama of it all. This is fine to a point and we always encourage children to tell a teacher if something bad has happened. The issue arises where you get every minute detail after every break and the issues are nothing more than minor indiscretions that could be handled by the supervising teacher or even better, sorted out amongst themselves. At times the motivation behind this type of behaviour can be to eat up teaching time as the lesson is side-tracked by sorting the incident or simply just students who love to stir up a bit of trouble.

When you try to prevent the telling of tales by silencing them or by ignoring the undesired behaviour, perhaps it gets worse or the children are too frustrated to concentrate on the next lesson. When you try to sort it out quickly, it can unravel and take ten or fifteen minutes to reach a satisfactory conclusion. What is an alternative strategy that you can incorporate to deal with this issue?

Listen: But on your terms and their time

I had a chronic issue with this type of behaviour with a class I taught before. It stemmed from their hyper-competitive nature (that I loved) but their games on yard often ended in petty disputes that they loved to report back after the bell which ate up precious teaching time. I used a simple solution to decrease this behaviour.

Having tried for weeks with various strategies to prevent their minor disputes with reflective discussions, preventive discussion and positive reinforcements with no success, I simply started to listen.

Whenever the students would come in from the yard and begin to sort out their disputes and tell tales on each other, I would feign the utmost genuine concern. I would ask who was involved and take careful note of the names. I would say that it sounds very important and we should try to get a solution to this issue. I would ensure to attribute no blame or showcase zero frustration. Then, I would tell them their appointment to sort this issue is at the start of the next break.

The children were initially very satisfied with this as I was demonstrating concern and was showing how I was willing to listen so the lesson could instantly begin that I had planned. The next break would come, and I would funnel the rest of the class out to the yard and suddenly, it would dawn on the remaining children that this issue could be resolved surprisingly quickly.

I would move comically slowly to my desk and take out my notepad and pen and begin to ask each child, “How can we solve this problem?”. I would take the spotlight away from the blame and focus it solely on what we could do to ensure it didn’t happen again. The students became antsy at missing their break time and could think of several ways to sort out their problems. It was miraculous how little they wanted to tell tales when it was on their time. When a satisfactory discussion was had (usually 4-5 minutes was enough), I would let them out without an angry word and tell them to enjoy their break.

Sure enough, I had to do this more frequently at the beginning, but very quickly the children realised that talking about many of their issues wasn’t worth five minutes of their own break time. They began to sort the minor issues out amongst themselves or tell the teacher on the yard and the constant telling of tales in my room reduced to zero.

It was a simple strategy that saved a lot of time. Of course, I missed time out of my break while using this intervention at the start, but I saved countless time over the year. If you’re struggling with a group that love to tell tales, I recommend it as a go-to strategy. Let me know if it works!

Disclaimer: Of course, bullying is always dealt with very seriously and students are always taught how bullying behaviour is deliberate, hurtful and repetitive. I trust a teacher will not use this strategy to reduce the reporting of bullying and knows the profile of their students appropriately to judge if this strategy is useful.

Categories
Behaviour Management

ADHD, ODD, ADD: Is labelling our children counter-productive?

One of my favourite thought-provoking articles I have read is a research paper by Nardone and Portelli titled When the diagnosis “invents” the illness. It is a fascinating take on the world we live in and how we classify mental disorders. It proposes a move away from the rigid categorisation of disorders and toward viewing problems as dysfunctional systems of perception and interaction.

Its implication for teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties would be a shift away from trying to fit children into a specific box such as ADHD, ADD, ODD, EBD etc which lead to predetermined strategies and instead focusing on a strategic approach where the problem is viewed on its own very specific merits and interventions are designed to help the student function better in their environment.

The paper makes a great case for this alternative way of thinking. It argues that a diagnosis has the potential to end up causing self-fulfilling prophecy and gives examples where this has been proven.

It gives one extreme example where a patient was admitted to the hospital as a manic depressive and was sedated with tranquillizers. The following day, she was to be moved to an alternative location but refused. The hospital insisted and the patient resisted. As they tried to forcibly move her, she became violent. She screamed. The doctor was called and a further series of injections were used to calm her as every time she woke, she became more violent.

This story may appear unpleasant but perhaps you may think “it was for her own good as she was manically depressed and they wanted to help her.” Your opinion may shift when you discover the police pulled over the ambulance when it was in transit to inform them that they had taken the wrong person. They had been injecting and sedating a “normal” person.

This story blew my mind. The nurses thought she was manically depressed so when she violently protested, they injected her as the diagnosis was there and the behaviour was interpreted as typical of the condition. How is this relevant to the classroom and students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? The story above is an extreme example but there are takeaways for us as teachers.

Let’s take for example a student with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A teacher who has a student with ADHD in their class may expect certain behaviours. They may expect the child to be disruptive, energetic, and inattentive and may treat them accordingly. The child – if they are aware of the diagnosis – may expect to perform these behaviours too. There is an element of diagnostic prophecy to the condition. 

With this diagnosis, common interventions include behaviour therapy and medication. To pose the question, what if the child has been wrongfully diagnosed and their behaviour was the result of something else and now they are being medicated?

Consider a child who is considered “normal” in your classroom. If a teacher is teaching a lesson and this child is inattentive and disruptive, the teacher might come to different conclusions. The teacher might consider their teaching. Was the child inattentive because the subject matter of the lesson was too difficult? Was the child disruptive because the methodology used was too boring and sedentary? The teacher may change the way they deliver future lessons to try to increase their engagement.

Is it possible that medically categorising our students at a young age might not be the correct way to go? Potentially. If a child with a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it can be accepted as part of their diagnosis. If a child without a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it may be more likely considered as communication.

I would not suggest throwing out all forms of diagnoses in schools, but I would be slower to label children in primary school and treat them a certain way because of their diagnosis. Thinking strategically (as discussed in previous articles) is a way to steer away from pigeon-holing our children and helping them to function more effectively in the classroom. The teacher can observe the problem behaviour specific to its characteristics and context and attempt to intervene to help the child function better in the classroom or wherever the problem may be. Having a diverse range of strategies, interventions and supports available is key to this way of thinking. 

I think this ideology is incredibly thought-provoking, how about you?

Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

Stop….Have a Debate and Listen!

Have you ever had two kids who are constantly fighting? They just seem to rub each other up the wrong way. They can’t walk past each other without a sly comment, a slight nudge or out on the yard at lunchtime is a free-for-all with fighting, cheating and lots of other undesirable behaviours? These types of situations can be quite common in schools as children can find it difficult to cope when they believe they don’t like someone who is constantly in the same area as them. Learning to be civil around someone you loathe is a life skill.

There are common strategies to try to cope with these scenarios. Perhaps a reward chart might be incorporated and kind words, kind hands and kind feet are positively reinforced. The teacher might use a punishment strategy to try to decrease the undesired behaviour where the children lose privileges if they engage in negative behaviour. The teacher might read social stories, use the zones of regulation or try discussing their issues with them separately to try to calm them down. They might even use the I-ASSIST model or Letters of Anger. These are all good strategies which might bear fruit, but what if they don’t?

As I have constantly parroted on this blog, anger is an emotion like any other and it is okay to feel. It is how the anger is communicated that needs to change in these situations. An unorthodox strategy that may be worth keeping in your toolkit for these instances is organizing face-to-face debates.

Face-to-face Debating

Often, children who are furious will only settle when they feel the situation is resolved to their satisfaction or their point is heard. Organising a face-to-face debate facilitates this as they get uninterrupted time to voice their grievances without fear of interruption of reprimand. There are several ways that this could be successfully implemented.

If the two children are fighting daily, religiously schedule a debate for after lunchtime where each gets five-ten minutes (depending on the context) to air their opinions and not a minute longer than the teacher prescribed. The other child must sit and listen for the full five minutes before he can speak for five minutes also. On the following day, the child who went second in the debate gets to start it. Once this is made a routine fixture, the pair should reduce their number of arguments outside of the designated debate time as they realise they will get their chance to argue later. It is, therefore, a great tool for de-escalating out on yard as the teacher can remind them to wait for the debate time.

There are other benefits to this method such as the building of a positive relationship with the teacher who is clearly impartial and no longer must seek who is to blame or reprimand negative behaviour. As the children have a full five-ten minutes to speak, apparent misunderstandings will appear, and the children will listen to how the other perceived what was happening which can help prevent future incidents. Finally, on the days that there are no issues, having to sit opposite each other as if to start a debate can provide a spark of humour and demonstrate the progress made. Perhaps make them just talk that day and see how a rapport may flourish that could even become a friendship.

Concerns

I am sure that there will be teachers reading this horrified. How can you organize the very situation that we want to avoid? Where will I get this time for a debate? What if it escalates the situation further?

To these teachers I would say, this strategy is great when other strategies are not bearing success and alternative logic is needed. It is apparently time-consuming, but the chances are if you are using this strategy, you were losing teaching time anyway having to deal with these negative situations. This is a method that gives the teacher control over a tricky situation. I would encourage the teacher to set firm minimal rules for the debate such as no swearing and having to remain in your seat. Otherwise, the teacher must sit in stony silence and allow the venting to occur.

What do you think? Could it work? Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli, and Gibson’s book “Winning without Fighting” for the idea.

Categories
Behaviour Management

I’ll be brief.

As social, emotional and behavioural difficulties are considered to be a complex issue, many theoretical perspectives have emerged to attempt to explain their formation and guide intervention. No single method is bulletproof, however, and I would encourage teachers to build a diverse toolkit of strategies and theories to help empower them to successfully manage any kind of a difficulty a child may be experiencing in their care.

A theory that is relatively unheard of that may be a beneficial tool to teachers is the Brief Strategic Approach. Here are four key concepts to this theory below that are simple to understand and may give some food for thought:

· Brief Strategic Interventions are based on the concept that problems are considered to be a result of the environment the child is interacting with as opposed to pathology. They move away from focusing on a label such as ADHD, ADD or ODD.

  • Brief Strategic Interventions focus on how things work as opposed to whyThey want to make them work as effectively as possible. They argue that we can intervene in the persistence of the problem, not the formation of it.
  • Interventions and solutions are based on the very specific characteristics of the individual problem rather than the problem having to fit into a rigid theory.
  • The Brief Strategic approach is based on a circular model of interaction. It believes behaviour is cyclical as opposed to linear. As opposed to believing one behaviour causes another in a straight line, it believes in focusing on disrupting the cycle of interaction with some kind of change to alter the problem behaviour. 

How can it help?

Brief strategic interventions and thinking are very useful when you are finding that ordinary logic and common solutions aren’t working. Lots of theories have rigid pre-determined strategies like behaviourism and the strategy of reinforcing positive behaviour but, what happens when these strategies aren’t working? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is where a brief strategic approach can come into play. This approach throws out labels and pre-decided interventions regardless of the issue and starts with defining the problem as it appears in the “now”. 

A very quick-guide of a brief strategic approach looks like this:

  1. Define the problem clearly.
  2. Identify what the failed attempted solutions so far are. (tip: discontinue these)
  3. Identify when the clearly defined problem does not occur. (tip: use these as clues)
  4. Ask yourself how you would make the problem worse. (tip: important to know what not to do)
  5. Set a clear objective.
  6. Formulate an action plan that uses the above steps to help guide the process.

This approach is a great one to use if you feel overwhelmed or frustrated at the lack of success. If you feel unqualified to deal with labels such as ADHD, ODD or ADD, this approach can empower you by locating the specific problem which can seem far more changeable than a medical label.

I will add more depth to this topic in the coming weeks with examples and a detailed step-by-step model which can aid you in taking a brief strategic approach if it is something that appeals to you.

Thanks to Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson’s book Winning without fighting and Nardone’s Knowing Through Changing for the literature that guides this article.

Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

“Dear Donald, I’m f*cking furious…”

Children who struggle to manage their anger can be quite intimidating. Outbursts can be violent, self-harming, loud and laden with profanities. Tantrums and outbursts can lead to other parents coming in complaining about their child being the victim of violence or having to witness/listen to inappropriate behaviour. It is only natural that a teacher wants to shut down these forms of angry behaviour as quickly as possible for everyone’s sake – not excluding the angry child themselves who can become very stressed and upset. The question is how?

There are a couple of fundamentals that can help. Allowing anger is an important concept. Everybody gets angry and this is a normal emotion like happiness, sadness and fear. Trying to suppress anger can lead to a volcanic eruption when it becomes too much. I have often found that children who struggle with anger find it hard to comprehend that anger is okay. Once they are calmed down and a discussion occurs, they might make a wild promise like “I’ll never get angry again”. It’s important to separate the behaviour and emotion. It’s fine to get angry but to hit or swear or scream is not okay in a school setting. The Zones of Regulation program, social stories and SPHE lessons are great ways to discuss anger and explicitly teach this depending on the age group you are teaching.

If you are trying to reduce certain behaviour, it’s important that you are trying to replace it. If you’re telling a child that anger is okay but the way they are demonstrating it is not, then you must teach them a way that is appropriate.

Letters of Anger

Letters of anger is a strategy that I found beneficial over the past few years with children old enough to write. It’s a very simple and empowering strategy. The premise is that if a child who struggles to contain his anger has a forum to express his anger in any way they wantThe child can write a letter to the individual they are angry at, to the teacher to explain why they are so angry or a diary-style entry to vent their frustrations. They can swear and speak their mind in their writing without fear of reprimand. They can show the teacher at the end if they wish or they can put it away once finished. They are not allowed to show it to other pupils, of course.

The benefits of this exercise are the implied message that anger is acceptable when projected in the right way and the expression of anger is encouraged in a child who struggles to manage it instead of attempting to push it down. Writing a letter is like slowly releasing the lid on an over-fizzed bottle of Coca-Cola. Releasing the lid too quickly can result in a mess. 

There are also the benefits that writing a letter takes time which will help the child gradually self-regulate their emotions while if the teacher is allowed to read the letter, they will learn to understand the child’s perspective which could build rapport and help prevent further similar outbursts. In my experience, the children wanted me to read their letters and there was an instantaneous improvement when I introduced the strategy as if they were relieved that their anger was being accepted.

Give it a go if you have a child in your care who struggles to contain their anger and let me know if you find it as beneficial as I have. This is one tool to add to your behaviour management toolkit which could come in handy one day.

Hat tip to Winning without Fighting by Papantuono, Portelli and Gibson where I found this strategy.

Categories
Behaviour Management Inclusion

Why we shouldn’t include.

Inclusion is amazing to watch. Watching true inclusion take place can spark so much joy in people as they watch someone who “shouldn’t” be participating thrive in an environment despite the potential barriers that could exist. People can have a narrow perspective of inclusion and others can have a wider lens.

If you ask someone with a narrow perspective what inclusion is, they might tell you about the importance of including a pupil who is in a wheelchair in physical education or how a child who is deaf can be included in drama. What they might not consider, however, is the wider perspective of including pupils with social, cultural, behavioural or emotional needs.

Inclusion can be considered the right to participate in everyday life. Children with behavioural, emotional and social needs can face challenging and invisible barrier to participate in day-to-day classroom life that might appear self-imposed whilst really deriving from a series of complex issues.

As these are issues which are extremely challenging for teachers and can be the cause of great frustration and upset, these children can be actively excluded through withdrawal, suspension or punishment or passively included where they are present in the room without meaningful engagement.

I have seen many instances of wonderful efforts and time being put into including these children but there are also incidences where these children are not included, and people feel it is either justifiable or are willing to turn a blind eye. Teachers should feel compelled to apply the same creativity and effort to include those with unseen needs as they are compelled to include those with physically visible needs.

Including children with physical disabilities can entail adding resources and removing barriers to ensure they can access and participate. Including children with complex emotional and behavioural needs can entail changing your whole style of teaching and communicating, your normal rules, your timetable and your reward systems along with many more factors.

If someone walked into my PE hall where a child in a wheelchair was sitting out because they couldn’t get involved with the lesson, there would rightly be uproar. Would the same uproar occur if a child with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties was left sitting out because they were unable to access the lesson without a meaningful effort by the teacher to include them?

The question should be framed when planning an activity as to why we shouldn’t include as opposed to why we should. The answers to why not to include may be solved by simple solutions, complex interventions or creativity and a can-do attitude. Maybe there is a valid reason, as there sometimes is. What’s right is the same effort and compulsion be provided for all, whether the need is visible or not.

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Categories
Behaviour Management

Call-and-Response 101

The basics of classroom management are the basics for a reason: they work. Personally, a fundamental strategy for the younger classes that I use is call-and-response chants to get the whole class’ attention before I begin instruction. This is a very simple strategy that can prevent you from having to repeat instructions multiple times or speak over the class to get their attention.

To ensure this basic strategy works, I would advise (as always) explicitly teaching the expected behaviours attached to the call and response while praising any student who fulfils these expectations thereafter to maximise compliance.

Maintaining these consistent expectations and reinforcing regularly through praise or a reward system can ensure the listening skills in the room develop to a high level and students learn to really tune in to your voice when you use this strategy. Over-use can be detrimental to its efficacy and keeping it fresh will help ensure that it works systematically throughout the year.

To keep it novel, I suggest changing the call-and-response every month to ensure that children don’t become immune to it and to remind yourself to reiterate the expectations and continue reinforcing them. I’ve attached below a suggested call-and-response grid that might be useful for any interested teachers:

MonthTeacher CallStudent ResponseExpectation
September“Show me Five!”“Eyes are watching, Ears are listening, feet are still, hands are quiet, you should really try it, you should really try it, listening well, listening well.” (To the tune of Frere Jacque)Everything in the song is completed by the time the song is complete.
October“Hocus Pocus”“Everybody Focus”All children turn and point their finger towards the teacher (as if casting a spell) with their eyes on the teacher and their voice off.
November“Voices” (Loud voice)   “Voices” (Medium voice)   “Voices” (Whisper)“Shhhhh” (Loud Voice)   “Shhhhh” (Medium Voice)   “Shhhh” (Whisper”The teacher calls the first time loudly and the children respond loudly, the second one is responded to quieter before being fully silent and eyes on the teacher following the final call.
December“Zip it, Lock it…”“Put it in your pocket!”The teacher mimics zipping their lips and turning the key while the children mimic putting the key in their pocket before folding their arms and looking at the teacher with voices off.
JanuaryClap a pattern.Children repeat it.Repeat three different patterns. By the end of the final pattern, all conversation has stopped, and eyes are on the teacher with.
February“1..2..3..eyes on me..”“1..2..eyes on you..”Eyes focussed on the teacher and voices are off.
March“Hands on top”“That means stop”Children empty their hands and put their hands on their head with their eyes on the teacher and voices off.
April“Ready, Set?”“You bet!”If the children are ready to listen, they give you two thumbs up while they are looking at you silently.
May“L-I-S”“T-E-N”Children finish their conversation or activity immediately and watch the teacher for their next instruction.
June“Ready to Rock?”“Ready to Roll!”Children do a rolling motion with their two hands before folding them and looking at you attentively.
Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management

Should teachers punish?

The question in the title is a great conversation starter. I find that everybody has an opinion on this topic with merits to all sides. I believe there is no black-and-white answer but I do find that applied behaviour analysis (ABA) provides some great value and a great framework for discussing it. They provide food for thought and its important to note within ABA itself, there is a division over the use of punishment. Some of the points below might help you make up your mind about your use of punishment (or if you will use it at all!).

A Clear Definition of Punishment

This first thing I love is ABA clearly defines punishment. They discuss two contrasting types of punishment: 

1. Positive Punishment 

Positive punishment refers to the contingent presentation of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. For example, the child performs a behaviour and the teacher verbally reprimands the child which reduces the likelihood of the child performing the behaviour again.

2. Negative Punishment 

Negative punishment refers to the contingent removal of a stimulus that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour. Negative punishment typically refers to response cost and time-out. A standard example of this may be a student losing access to privileges, reward tokens or golden time etc.  

While many discuss punishment as a cruel and old-school practice delivered in no relation to behaviour, punishment in ABA terms is strictly discussed as a procedure to decrease a behaviour. If it is not to decrease a specific behaviour, punishment is not used and if it is not effective at decreasing the behaviour, it can be adjusted or removed. This definition appears reasonable and gives a clear rationale for its use i.e to decrease behaviour.

How and When to Punish

As well as using punishment only to decrease a target behaviour, five key points struck me as thought-provoking when reading the literature. These were:

  1. Punishment is discouraged unless it is considered to be the best way to intervene to cause a behaviour change.
  2. Punishment should be used with reinforcement. If one behaviour is being decreased, reward the behaviour that would like to be increased.
  3. Avoid punishment unless avoiding it would be of greater cost to the child than engaging with it.
  4. Use the least amount of punishment that is effective (lowest intensity, shortest duration).
  5. Punishment can be useful when the reinforcers (the thing that causes the behaviour) cannot be identified or controlled.

Should teachers punish?

To bring it back to the original question, I still think there is no clear answer. If you have tried positive approaches to cause specific behaviour change and it is not forthcoming, then there may be a case for punishment. Using the principles above, if punishment is being used, it should be the least amount of punishment necessary and the teacher should know what behaviour they should like to increase in its place while rewarding that behaviour when it occurs. If the teacher is cognizant of all the above points, I believe punishment may have a place in a teacher’s behaviour management toolkit.