A Naughty Child Is A Discouraged Child!


We are social beings. We live in a social system and are governed by rules and regulations that make up our society. As children we strive to find our place first in our family, then in school and then in society. From infancy our earliest attempts are in finding ways to belong and to be significant. Our behaviour is goal oriented. We continue behaviours that result in being included and we abandon behaviours that exclude us.


An example: A three year-old watches intently as his mother is busy with his new baby brother. He correctly observes that the new baby takes up much of his mother's time and that there is less attention for him but he mistakenly interprets that to get his mother's attention he must also be helpless. The child reverts back to soiling himself after having been potty-trained for 6 months. Young children do not know "why" they misbehave. They learn by trial and error. They see the results of what they do. If the desired result is produced by misbehaviour it will continue.

Often where there is an under-developed sense of self in young adults we can observe a similar type of behaviour. When we understand that perceiving, interpreting and comprehending events are so markedly different for children our expectations of and reaction to their behaviour alters. The meaning children attach to their experiences does not match the meaning adults attach to the same experiences. Positive discipline sets a solid foundational example to follow and builds and enhances a positive and stable sense of self. Telling a young child to say “I’m sorry” when you feel they have done something inappropriate makes as much sense as demanding that a child say something they know is not true – they cannot lie until they are taught to by observing those around them.

The challenge of socialising children and developing them into responsible, accountable and stable adults is to figure out how to help them control impulses, think beyond the here and now and become able to reflect on the consequences of their actions. Positive discipline sets an example to follow and enhances self-esteem whereas punishment shames and alienates – it focuses only on the negative.

While many of the famous child development psychologist Jean Piaget’s theories have been challenged he stated that discipline through cooperation where the parent or educator co-operates in terms of the child's point of view (the hyphen in "co-operates" is intended to emphasise the operation in terms of the child's perspective) has the most favourable and effective long-term outcome for both parties. An atmosphere is established in which children feel that their parents and educators care for them, enjoy being with them and respect them by taking their feelings, interests and ideas into account. When children experience this type of co-operation they are likely to be willing to co-operate in return, with everyone in their environment. Of course, we are generalising and not talking here about children with special needs.

Educators get into the profession of teaching through their regard for children. It is unfortunate however that the general paradigm in education is that disciplining learners is a part of the curriculum – that it comes with the job! After all, school is a place of instruction! The implication is that if learners have problems at home or are socially maladapted somehow their teacher is responsible for finding ways to correct that and find the time in which to do it.

This paradigm should be rejected in favour of the idea that a learner has no business at all being in a classroom without an attitude of utmost respect, willingness to focus, to be on task at all times, and not disrupt or in any way detract from the learning process. By the time children get into the 1st grade they should have a basic understanding of how to behave and show respect and even children from the harshest home life will usually have developed some social skills through their extended family and community. They are also usually equipped with an understanding that their actions do have consequences. In order for you as a parent to get the most out of your child and for teachers to succeed with their learners, it is imperative to reinforce these concepts at home and in the class.

Children value structure and thrive in an organised environment. In order for the process to be complete in the school, all educators should strive to ensure the same classroom management strategies. The general school code of conduct should be condensed and displayed on every classroom wall. A parent is rarely effective in a disorganised home and an educator cannot teach properly, if at all, without a well-behaved class.

A Doctor, a Lawyer or any other professional is unlikely to tolerate a child being disrespectful or disruptive to him or her in their office. Why then, should an educator? If a student doesn’t know how to behave already then why do our educators hardly ever see them behave that way in front of the Principal? Exactly!

Children understand hierarchy. Learners know who is head in the family unit and they should be made aware that every teacher is at the helm in their classroom and that the buck stops there. The warning issued to students “I will take you to the headmaster“ has the most counterproductive results. It is mostly an idle threat and students perceive that their teacher is giving away the control they should have in their classroom.

Most of us have, at some time, learnt certain management techniques which we have taken with us into adulthood. Educators will certainly have learnt classroom management and been given some tips on how to discipline certain behaviours as they arise but all parents need to work with our educators to prevent further exodus from the profession and deterioration in our system of education.

As parents we need to provide our children with the foundational basics in the home so that we can give back to our educators the time they need to effectively teach instead of spending half of it disciplining discouraged children. We need to encourage our children to take advantage of the accumulated knowledge in the teaching profession so that they use every day as a learning experience. They must know that their futures depend on it! Instead of feeling like you spend your time in a battle zone, encourage your child by creating structure for them (I promised you they won’t hate you longer than a week!):

  • Establish your expectations of them;
  • Discuss their expectations of themselves and you (yours because children need role models and will hold you accountable for their own shortcomings);
  • Write down and display both sets of expectations for everyone to use as a basis for behaviour;
  • Create procedures (rules) in addition to expectations;
  • Develop consequences for when expectations and procedures are violated - these consequences should be discussed and agreed upon by all so that the structure in your home is becomes and remains consistent; 
  • Respond immediately when expectations are violated with consistency; 
  • Be proactive and nip any developing behavioural problems in the bud by constantly and consistently using your log of expectations and procedures;
  • Make time to spend together as a family to discuss, update and change your expectations and procedures to ensure they are always age appropriate;
  • Develop a warning system for your children so that they know they cannot push the boundaries
  • Limit free time (Idle minds, idle hands = boredom = mischief)

Look out for PART 2: The Four Most Common Goals of Misbehaviour

Article written for Schoolguide by Dr Tracey Stewart, Headwise Developments. Educated in South Africa and the United Kingdom, Tracey has a special interest in Early Childhood Developmental Psychology and Psychometric Assessment Software Development.  She has counselled at private and public schools and continues her work in impoverished areas.  Following a brief period working in the Middle East, her interest in making psycho-assessment-based profiling as available as possible has lead to the development of a Personality-Type/Career-Match Profile.  She is in demand at schools for workshops on Positive Discipline in the Classroom and continues research in areas of ECD

The Four Most Common Goals of Misbehaviour
Tossing Playground Rules