NUMBER 1084 • 13 NOVEMBER • DISCIPLINE
A working definition of the term discipline is essential to any basic consideration of the subject, since often the term discipline is confused with punishment. One frequently hears it said, for example, that children must be disciplined for committing some offense, when really what the speaker means is that the children should be punished. Punishment, in the strictest sense of the word, is a specific negative act performed as a response to another act which is negative in the eyes of the punisher and which he does not want to have repeated. The term discipline, however, has a broader and more positive meaning, one which is related to overall child development and to achievement of happy and constructive living. Discipline is considered as a positive encouragement, guidance, and teaching of the kind of behavior which helps a child to learn to live as a socialized being and to achieve the optimum growth and development which is possible for him. This type of discipline is not achieved by frequent use of punitive practices and highly restrictive controls, applied as a direct consequence of some disapproved specific action on the part of the children. Rather, it is built into every aspect of an institutional program and supported by concentrated efforts of the staff to sustain relevant points of view, practices, and policies.
Looking for Reasons
Staff in an institution attempting to promote positive discipline try to look beyond the immediate disturbing behavior for possible causes, which can then be altered if necessary or at least worked through with the children involved. For example, if a child runs away from the institution, the staff could, on the child’s return, apply immediate and decisive punitive measures such as isolation and deprivation. These actions taken solely would only serve to increase the child’s negative feelings, which probably made him want to run away in the first place, toward the institution. On the other hand, if the staff attempt to find out why he ran away and help correct, or help him correct, the reasons underlying the behavior, the experience can be one of true learning. Other disciplinary practices are more humane if applied in a context of helping the child come to grips with the feelings and situations related to his running away. Although this is just one example, the child care worker should bear in mind that in his daily work he has many opportunities for handling similar situations and that each one has the possibility of helping the child learn in a way that will be one step toward, not away from, health.
This is not to say, of course, that for every episode of disturbed behavior the child care worker must conduct a profound search into possible causes. From the point of view of time this is not always feasible. For many things that happen during the day, often the immediate goal is to help the child get calm so that he can rejoin the program without additional probing on the worker’s part. However, it is definitely the role of any child care worker to hold a point of view about discipline, and in this sense the worker needs to know the part that reasons play in misbehavior and their relation to punishment.
VanderVen, K. (1972) The worker and institutional policies: Discipline. In Foster, G.W. et al. Child care work with emotionally disturbed children. Pittsburgh: University of Pitsburgh Press. pp.125-6