Discipline and the Dignity of Children

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I am a child advocate at heart. This has always been a part of my life as a teacher, and now as a pastoral counselor and registered play therapist. So, what am I advocating for children today?

The most popular form of discipline in the public and private schools in my area is using a clip system. On the wall in each classroom is a vertical sign divided into colored sections. Children move a clothes pin clip, with their name on it, up or down depending on their behavior.

I am often in schools doing observations for my child clients. There is consistent teacher talk during a lesson asking someone to clip up or down. Does this system work? I would venture to say, “yes.” But, does it have severe negative consequences for the well-being of our children? I give that a resounding “yes” as well.

This week alone, I have had three calls from parents indicating that their child is refusing to go to school. After asking some questions, I am not astounded to find out that each of these children have something in common. They are filled with anxiety over the use of the classroom clip system.

For sake of confidentiality, I will alter the exact concerns. One child participates in the gifted and talented program. He also has tendencies toward perfectionism. But, he is a boy and has lots of energy in his body. In a classroom where children sit for long periods of time doing worksheets, he will sometimes forget to raise his hand to speak. He must then move down his clip. What follows is a meltdown because he feels incapable of being the perfect child.

Child two has ADHD. He has been my client and we have worked on impulse control and self regulation. This child really wants to please his teacher and comply with the school rules. Every day he greets his mom with an announcement of what color he achieved on the clip system that day. Again, he feels incompetent, Staying at the top of the chart is almost impossible for him. Child two determines, “I’ll just stay home, because I can’t handle the stress.”

Child three is a shy child. She has social anxiety. For her, to even answer a question from the teacher is a major feat. She rarely has to move her clip for behavior. But, that is the catch. She anxiously wonders, “What if I have to move my clip?” This thought paralyzes her to the point where she can’t get out of the car in the morning. She suffers from belly aches and throws up before school.

I was a classroom teacher for 24 years. I know the real life challenges of trying to teach and encourage children to be in control of themselves. I admit, I used behavior charts. In my early teaching years, children kept their charts on their desks. I noted that the public display caused anxiety and I was uncomfortable that this was teacher controlled. I became influenced by High Scope Curriculum, which encourages children to self evaluate. This led to a private system where students monitored their behavior themselves. I learned to implement peace-keeping tables where children could go to work out interpersonal concerns. In other words, children became responsible for getting along and creating an environment that was conducive to learning.

So, today, I decided to Google “clip systems” and I was shocked to see how many others have the same concerns. These are brave souls who are risking telling the truth about a system that is deeply entrenched. Parents, you hold the power and are your child’s best advocates. Our God is a God of grace and mercy. Shaming is never a way He uses to let us know we are off track. I encourage you to look into the system of discipline used in your child’s classroom. Below are links to two other articles on the dangers of behavior charts.

Moving Past Behavior Charts

Why I Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again

Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.

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Kathy has experience as an elementary educator, teacher trainer, adjunct professor, and has served as Family Resource Director for a major hospital. Kathy is a Kentucky Licensed Pastoral Counselor and is credentialed as a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor by the American Association of Play Therapy. She is owner of a private practice, Path of Life Ministry, in Wilmore, KY.

2 COMMENTS

  1. What about reward charts? In my son’s school, and at home, we use a reward chart, giving stickers for staying on task, doing chores without being asked, being generous with his brother, etc., and he gets a prize for getting a certain amount (treasure box at school, tv time at home). Is this different because it rewards positive behavior instead of punishing “bad” behavior? Am I creating a reward-seeking monster?

    • I would call this an incentive system which, as you say, acknowledges positive and desired behaviors, moving towards an intrinsic motivation to stay on task, follow routines, or expectations. As a teacher and a mommy, I have used tools like this and found them to be very successful more often than you unintentionally create a “reward seeking monster!”

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