Thursday, April 15, 2010

The goal should be to build self-reliant, responsible citizens. We want to foster the kinds of characteristics that emanate from a personality with an ethical self-image and a healthy sense of self-worth.

(Photo by BookMama)
The following is reprinted here with permission from

Discipline need not be stressful.

Discipline need not be negative.
If discipline is stressful or negative,
rewards and punishments may be the problem.


The usual approach to discipline—especially school and classroom discipline—is to teach toward obedience using rewards, punishments, and telling young people what to do. These are all external approaches and are various forms of manipulation, pressure, and coercion.

Rewards can serve as 
effective incentives—if the person is interested in the reward. School grades are a case in point. The reward of a good grade is important to some students--but of no interest to others. A reason why some students exert little effort for grades is that—to use Dr William Glasser's vocabulary—grades are not in their "Quality World." If a good grade or any reward is not important to the person, it has little value as an incentive.

Rewards can also serve as wonderful acknowledgements—ways of congratulating merit and demonstrating appreciation. Student of the week or employee of the month are examples of such acknowledgements. But notice that these are awarded after the behavior—not as bribes beforehand. {Aimee speaking here: The use of Student of the Month at BCS is highly controversial and I would argue inappropriate for an elementary school.}

As opposed to using rewards as incentives and acknowledgements, giving rewards for expected standards of behavior is counterproductive. It is also based on the outmoded idea that all behavior is modified thorough external approaches, similar to the techniques used to train animals. Internal approaches—such as self-talk—have no place in this mindset.

People who use this behavioral approach—often referred to as behavior modification—have just one objective: changing behavior. Practitioners of this approach do NOT promote ADULT values. By rewarding kids with something youngsters value (candy, stickers, prizes, etc.), we simply reinforce their CHILDHOOD values. In the process, we lose opportunities to pass on OUR values—such as generosity, kindness, responsibility, perseverance, and integrity. What we really hope to do is to teach young people about values that will last a lifetime. So, while most kids will do what you want them to do to get the treat, and it might look as if they are becoming more mature, they have not moved one step further towards becoming more responsible.

Also, a common myth is that rewards motivate young people to be responsible. They don't. The bribe becomes the focus not the desired change. Certainly, if the person is interested in the reward (bribe), there may be some short-range success.

However, regardless of how much we may think that rewards lead toward internalizing the desired behavior of acting responsibly, there is no evidence that this ever occurs. In contrast, there is much research to suggest that an "external locus of control" (external motivation) does not transition to an "internal locus of control" (internal motivation).

An example of this was vividly shared with me after one of my presentations to the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
    My name is George H. Orfe, and I am the principal from South Dakota who told you the story of the boy and the $5.00 his father gave him for each "A" grade. You asked that I relate the story to you. Here it is:
    I had a father of a fifth grader who gave his son $5 for each A on his report card. The first marking period the child received eight A's and $40 from his father.
    The second marking period ended in January, and report cards went home at the beginning of February. The father was quite upset since his son had dropped to only one A, 2 B's, and the rest C's.
    In the conference with the father, I suggested we call his son in and see what the problem was. The boy came into my office, sat down, and we began to talk. My first question was, "How is it that your grades have slipped so much this marking period," and the boy quickly responded, "I didn't need the money!"
    The father slumped in the chair.
A major problem of bribing people with rewards is that the cost inevitably increases. Although a candy bar may prompt a five-year old to behave appropriately, it will cost you more to persuade a fifteen-year-old.

Notice also that this approach promotes a mentality of, "What's in it for me?" which lacks any sense of moral development or social responsibility. The reward becomes the motivator, instead of the expected standard of behavior.

Here is a major point to remember about external rewards: they change motivation. This was clearly exhibited in the following classic story.
    An elderly gentleman spent each afternoon tending his large garden on his corner lot. A group of ten-year olds began harassing him on their way home from school. After a few days listening to their jeers and insults, he decided to act.
    The next day he met the boys as they approached his house. The gentleman told the youths that he lived alone and was enjoying the attention they were giving him. To show his appreciation, he told them if they continued showing attention to him on the next day he would give each of them a dollar. Amazed and excited, the next day they showed up right after school. They showered the elderly man with epithets and jeers. True to his word, the man put down his gardening tools, walked up to them, and pulled out a roll of bills from his pocket. He handed each youngster a dollar and encouraged a repeat on the next day—at which time he would give each of them a quarter. The kids thought that was pretty good and came back the next day to taunt him.
    The next day at the first catcall, the elderly gentleman walked over with a roll of quarters and again paid off his hecklers. He then announced that in the future he would only give them a penny.
Do you think the boys came back?

The sly gentleman's plan was elegantly simple. He rewarded the children and thereby changed their motivation from harassing him for fun to that of getting the reward. As soon as a meaningful reward was no longer there, neither were they.

Here is another point to consider. In giving young people rewards for appropriate behavior, we are fostering the concept that, when they get older, society will also reward them for such behavior. This is simply contrary to fact. When was the last time you were given a reward for stopping at a red light?

A prime point to consider when using 
external rewards to change behavior (in contrast to internal rewards such as self-satisfaction) is that they often "punish" those who fulfilled all obligations but were still NOT given the reward while others are. 

The following example clearly proves the point. It is from a post and response
The post:

I just wanted to quickly relay a rewards-based disaster.

One of our seventh-graders, in fact, the daughter of a teacher, recently wanted to go to the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) reward dance. She is an A honor roll student, never a discipline problem, and a wonderful kid. In the haste of "bribing" misbehaving students to be good, we neglected to "reward" her for doing what she had motivated herself to do. Long story short, she did not have enough PBS tickets to go to the dance. How horrible!!
Looks like rewards systems don't quite cover the good kids as well as they should. Good thing that they are intrinsically motivated and feel good about the fact that they are great kids and their teachers love them!


A response post:

Your experience really points out what I think is a 
big problem with any reward based behaviour program—the fact that the goal of the program (often not clearly stated) is simply to get kids to behave. When the goal is obedience, then the program isn't truly too worried about the kids who are already obedient. Then things happen—just as they did in your school where a wonderful child is left feeling terrible. Of course, no one intended for that to happen but still that's often the result.

That's why I feel so strongly about
 DISCIPLINE WITHOUT STRESS. The goal is to raise everyone, not just those who are a big problem—so the program can focus on all kids. That's what I love: EVERY kid gains. Some gain by bringing them up to Level C, while those who are already there gain, too. They learn about Level D, which is such a valuable understanding for living the rest of their lives. No other program that I'm aware of provides this understanding. (The levels are described at the hierarchy.)
More information about the use of rewards is available at
No argument is presented here against such societal practices for adults who have been convicted of socially harmful behavior. 
If you believe that an eight-year-old is an eighteen-yea-old, then it may seem natural to treat a young person with similar approaches. However, if you believe that young people are not yet adults, then the use of punishment to raise responsibility must be examined.

A common myth is that imposed punishments are necessary to change young people's behavior. If this type of punishment worked, then once a youngster is punished the same behavior would not be repeated. If you have used punishments to change behavior and the same behavior was repeated, read on.

Not too many of us remember that the horse pulling the buggy was urged on by a flick of the whip and that information was pounded into students by the cane, the strap, or fear of them. But since then, we have found better ways to teach; yet we are still using the horse and buggy approach to foster social responsibility in an era when both society and the nature of youth have dramatically changed.

Punishments operate on the theory young people must experience pain in order to grow into responsibility. We are expecting people whom we "intentionally hurt" to act constructively thereafter. But can you recall the last time you felt bad and did something good? People cannot think positively with negative feelings. People do "good" when they feel good. Imposed punishments can force compliance but never commitment. Have you ever seen anyone punished into commitment? Punishments kill the very thing we are attempting to do—change behavior into something that is positive and socially appropriate.

One reason we keep thinking punishment works is that sometimes the behavior stops. This may be the case with very young children if the behavior is caught early before it becomes a habit and if the punishment itself is a novel experience. However, we must also consider whether or not the subject understands which action is being punished.

Punishments are ineffective with far too many young people. Escalation is a testament to its ineffectiveness. In schools when punishments fails to work, inevitably more punishments are prescribed, and the cycle perpetuates itself. By the time some students reach the secondary level, they have been talked to, lectured at, sent out of class, kept after school, referred to the office, referred to Saturday school, suspended in school, suspended from school—and they simply no longer care.

Punishments are temporary and transitory. Fear and force only produce changes in the short run. Once a punishment ends, the youngster has "served his time" and is "free and clear" from further responsibility. A coercive approach that works in the short run does not mean it is effective in the long run. Threatening a youngster with punishment may force compliance--but only so long as the threat is present. Needless to say, it does not change behavior when the coercion is gone.
Punishments are adult-dependent, rather than self-dependent. In schools, the threat of punishments may pressure a student to act appropriately in one class but has no effect on the way the young person interacts with others outside of that class. In addition, because punishments are teacher-dependent, their use is inconsistently applied. What is a punishable offense by one teacher is not by another.

Punishments are based on avoidance, a negative response. It stirs primal feelings of fear, fleeing, or fighting. Such emotions are counterproductive to the learning process. In schools, their use automatically puts the student and teacher in adversarial roles, which usually has predictable results: (1) the student tests the teacher to see what he can get away with and/or (2) it diminishes the person's motivation to learn. Punishments kill the very thing we are attempting to do—motivate the student to learn what the teacher desires. In addition, very sensitive youth retreat into feelings of low self-esteem where they begin thinking they are truly bad.

Punishments or the threat of them do not help the young person learn how to modify the behavior involved. What the person learns—if the behavior is so strongly motivated that the young person continues it—is not to get caught the next time. Making excuses and covering one's tracks become the focus. Evasiveness increases rapidly under punishments, a sad situation in any class or family setting. Also, repeated or severe punishments have some very nasty side effects: fear, anger, resentment, resistance, revenge, even hate in the punished one—and sometimes in the punisher, too.

None of these mental states is conducive to positive growth. The goal should be to build self-reliant, responsible citizens. We want to foster the kinds of characteristics that emanate from a personality with an ethical self-image and a healthy sense of self-worth.

The reality is that imposed punishments bring feelings of satisfaction to the punisher but have little lasting effect on the punished. You can visualize this by the father who is chasing after his son, strap in hand. The mother calls to her husband, saying, "Give him another chance!" The husband yells back, "But what if he doesn't do it again!"

If the youngster has learned not to do it again, why punish him? The answer: punishments satisfy the emotions of the punisher. Punishments are reinforcing for the punisher because they demonstrate and help to maintain dominance. Until the day when a child is big enough to retaliate, the adult is the dominant one. This, unknowingly, may be the main motivation behind our tendency to punish. The punisher may be primarily interested, not in behavior, but rather in proving higher status. In essence, the parties are engaged in a power struggle. The paradox of this situation is that the youngster knows which "button" to push to stimulate anger in the more powerful adult. When the adult demonstrates anger, then the power desires of the vanquished become satisfied.
Certainly youngsters need to experience the consequences resulting from their behavioral choices, but imposing punishments is not the most effective way of inducing people to change. Change requires ownership, and an imposed punishment manifests ownership for the adult—not for the child.

The only time imposed punishments may be effective is when the person being punished (1) respects and cares for the person doing the punishing and (2) understands that the punishment is in his or her own best interest.

But in the vast majority of cases, imposed punishments engender enmity--not responsibility.
More information about the use of punishments is available at
A third common myth is that young people need to be told what to do. You can tell how effective this approach is just by completing the following sentence: "If I've told you once, I've told you . . . ."

If telling worked, you would not have to repeat yourself and people would do what you wanted them to do.

Telling and mini-lecturing are generally ineffective with young adolescents who are trying to assert their independence. Telling is often interpreted as criticism and promotes defensiveness. The parent wants to save the adolescent from the consequence of what the parent sees as a negative experience, so the parent begins to lecture. After a few minutes, a glaze comes over the young person's eyes. The parent has been tuned out. The adolescent is thinking, "I'm being lectured again" or "Just because you tell me what to do, doesn't mean I'm going to do it." The intentions of giving guidance and counsel are good, but the young person who is attempting to assert independence perceives the advice as an attempt to control. People don't mind controlling, but they dislike being controlled.

I recall a friend's sharing with me how he hated having his mother tell him to do something. Even though it was something he wanted to do, such as playing outside, he found an excuse not to do it merely because she told him to do it.

Whenever you tell someone to do something differently, you convey a message that the way the person has been performing is wrong or not good enough. Telling implies that something has to be changed, but people tend to resist change that is thrust upon them. This often creates defensiveness and a tendency to resist.

Just for a moment, think of a situation where someone told you to do something.
Now, notice how you feel. When someone tells you what to do, you are apt to think, "Don't tell me!" Telling creates a negative emotion.

Please remember this key point: A change in behavior is as much emotional as it is intellectual. Negative emotions do not engender positive changes.

Besides, when young people become adolescents, they become experts in everything. Try telling a teenager something and see how far you get.

Mark Twain articulated the situation: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."
More information about telling is available
If these external motivational approaches were effective, discipline problems would be a footnote to teaching and parenting. These approaches are too often ineffective and are counterproductive to fostering self-discipline and responsibility. In addition, they have little lasting effect on the person whose behaviors require change.

Here is the paradox:
We want to assist young people to be self-disciplined and responsible, but 
both traits require internal motivation. Yet, rewards, punishments, and telling are external motivators and place the responsibility on someone else to instigate a change.

External motivators also fail the critical test: How effective are they when no one is around?
Rewards and punishments are opposite sides of the same coin. Rewards ask"What do you want me to do, and what do I get if I do it." Punishments ask"What do you want me to do and what happens to me if I don't do it?"

external motivators induce STRESS to both parties.

If an approach is used where people are motivated to be responsible—where internal rather than external motivation is at work—then obedience becomes a natural by-product.

Accepting responsibility is the surest and quickest way to change behavior. Such was the case as described in a Newsweek story (January 21, 2002, pages 42-44).
    A student had been constantly clowning around and misbehaving in an English class. He was sent to the office. The meted out consequence was to go back to the teacher after class and apologize. He approached Ms. Vines and said, "I'm sorry I disrupted your class." She accepted the apology. To Robert, the simple act of fessing up, standing accountable for his wrongs, struck a chord with him. He said it made him feel like a man. He started acting like one.
Robert's case is not uncommon. The key is to lead students to accept responsibility. This is accomplished by using a noncoercive, but not permissive, approach to discipline.
That is the strategy used in The Raise Responsibility System—a powerful and exciting proactive program that raises individual and social responsibility and promotes motivation for learning. The program is used across the entire teaching spectrum—from small childcare centers to large high schools and from rural schools to urban schools. The strategy also can be used in any home or youth setting. The system is part III of The Discipline Without Stress Teaching Model.
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