Discipline and Difficult Children

I am reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD and this morning I read the author’s thoughts on dealing with difficult children in school. He was called in to train teachers in one school in NVC, his non-violent communication process. While most of the teachers saw good results, a few who probably didn’t quite master the process, found that their efforts to use NVC failed miserably. In fact it made matters worse. Rosenberg called eight boys into a room to talk, he found that these teachers actually lost respect of the students because they couldn’t get the class under control. Some of them actually wanted to learn. “The teacher lets them get away with anything.”

With Rosenberg using his own method, he got the boys to listen and to contribute their thoughts as to what they thought needed to be done. Some suggested physically restrining or hitting but Rosenberg nixed that idea. One boy suggested a special room where a student could go (or be sent by a teacher) until he felt like sitting still and learning. When Rosenberg suggested a student might not go to the room when sent out, the student said, “They’ll go.”

Rosenber brought the idea to the teachers and it was implemented. Of course, there was an adult in the room who happened to be trained in NVC. Rosenberg suggested that one reason it worked so well is that it was an idea put forth by a student. Interestingly, while students did go there, they also returned when they were ready to cooperate.

The story reminded me of a situation years ago when I was the coordinator of a religious education program of junior high students. There was one boy, David, who was a total disrupt-er in the classroom and the more the teacher tried discipline, the worse he got. Finally, I told the teacher, “When he gets out of hand, send him out and I will take care of him.” I had some understanding of ADHD at that point and I also knew that this particular boy was filled with anger because he had spent the last six years in religious education under the direction of Sister Catherine Marie whose methods were pretty archaic when it came to discipline of rowdy kids. He’d spent more time sitting in her office than in the classroom and over the years listened to hours about what a bad kid he was. He’d often been sent home and his mother and dad were also angry…at Sr. Catherine Marie. They really wanted their son’s experience of church to be a good one.

When David was sent to my office the first time, I said to him, “David, could you do me a favor and walk around and collect the attendance charts from outside the classrooms and  bring them back to me?” He was shocked. After he returned, I asked him what had happened in the classroom and he gave me his version. I told him that it didn’t matter to me whether he went to religion class or not but it did matter to me that, if he didn’t go, he wouldn’t learn anything about his religion. “Maybe we can come up with another way,” I said. I found that his reading and writing skills were not at his grade level, so I said, “How about every time you come, we will talk for a little while about religious stuff and then you can be my helper the rest of the time.” He agreed. We carried out our plan and became friends.

Some people might think me wrong, but I the last thing I wanted was for David to leave his years in CCD hating the Church. As it turned out, he did anyway, but his mother told me later that the experience he had with me that year was his best in his religious education experience. “No one has ever taken the time or made the effort to understand my son,” she said. “He hated Sr. Catherine Marie and it colored his view of the Church because that is who she represented.”


2 thoughts on “Discipline and Difficult Children”

  1. Abdi, I was so excited to see that you have found my blog and I really appreciate your comment. Once again, how similar we are. Different cultures, different sides of the world yet parents and teachers dealt with children’s misbehavior the only way that made sense to them. One could argue, “Look how good Abdi turned out. That must have been because he was spanked as a child.”
    When teaching about why spanking doesn’t work, I used to say, “If you have to do it over and over, it clearly is not working.” But there was more to it. Spanking teaches that violence is a legitimate way to control others. It teaches that power is about being bigger and stronger. It fails to teach the real consequences of one’s actions. A spanking is not a good consequence of failure to put your bike away…having your bike stolen is a real consequence. I told parents to let consequences be the teachers…and if the consequence was too hazardous (as the loss of an expensive bike), then impose a consequence as close to the real one as possible (take the bike away for a while so they can feel what it is like not to be able to have it.) I loved teaching. I only wish I had known when I was raising my children what I later learned in my studies of parent education. Have a good day, Abdi.

  2. I am a Somali-American living in St. Cloud now. This piece reminds me of my childhood in Africa. Our school teachers disciplined us without an iota of fear of any repercussion from the state. If we failed to turn our assignments in time, we were subject to discipline. You come late, you get punished. Corporal punishment was the mainstay of discipline. You come home to complain to your parents about the teacher’s violent behavior, then they beat you up once again. Coming to America at a young age, my grandparents believed in corporal punishment. Until now, they claim whooping kids can improve students’ grades and reduce poor attendance. I remember our grandpa said to our dad, “effective corporal punishment is the best medication for boys who suffer Attention Deficit Disorder.” I don’t think he was joking.

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