A matter of discipline
In recent months we’ve heard a growing rumble of noise in the media about a greater need for discipline among children. This has sometimes included the desire to revert to a time when discipline was an accepted measure of control by adults. There’s a sub-text here of a yearning for ‘order and structure’ in communities – whether schools or neighbourhoods – where children and young people spend most of their time. Alternatively the sub-text can be a call for reintroducing violence against children, meaning ‘corporal punishment’, a ‘clip round the ear’ or ‘a good smack’.
Order and structure is a valuable and important part of learning and living with others. There needs to be clear and commonly understood ‘rules of engagement’, without which bullying and shouting can prevail, preventing children from being able to enjoy life and achieve their potential.
The best teachers don’t gain control with physical contact, they abhor it. The few who struggle may erroneously see physical ‘discipline’ as a simple solution to their own need for more training in skills and techniques to manage behaviour.
Most parents and teachers use a wide variety of techniques to make clear to their child or student what is and is not acceptable behaviour. Most importantly they model it themselves by speaking in a calm but assertive voice, setting out warnings and taking actions that deny pleasures and preferences of children, where necessary. Such techniques remain the most effective. They do not destroy the relationship on which progress for the child and success for the teacher or parent rely – as physical ‘discipline’ can. Physical ‘discipline’ is not part of a trusting relationship, it’s often a cathartic action for adults. Violence against children teaches a child nothing more than how to be violent.
Barbara Hearn, deputy chief executive of NCB