When my bag oftricks was exhausted,I looked for others to blame.How could I be
expected to fix a child whose mother wasn’t willing to work with us? Look at the neigh-
borhood she was free to roam at all hours ofthe day and night.And every time I sent
her to the office, the director would give her a hug and a chat and would promptly
return her to my room. I didn’t send her down there for a hug! I wanted that girl to
have the fear ofGod put into her.I wanted blood!
This child brought out the worst in me,time and time again.I became consumed
with mean-spirited battles of will with a five-year-old that left me frustrated and dis-
couraged.I had allowed Lizbeth’s behavior to turn me into somebody I didn’t like very
much. It was time to look within myself, not only to examine my relationship with
Lizbeth,but to rethink my entire approach to discipline and guidance.What were my
goals for kids,anyhow? And did my current strategies help children reach those goals?
I had a pretty good idea of the beliefs and skills I wanted my kids to have. They
should know how to have a friend and be a friend,and they should be able to solve con-
flicts with words rather than force.I wanted them to know right from wrong and to “be
good”because that is what people do, rather than behaving so that they could get a
reward or avoid a punishment.
But ifthat is what I believed,then why was I doing what I was doing? How were chil-
dren to learn compassion when I told them to ignore their friend in the time-out chair
who wept for his mommy? How could they practice conflict resolution when I was so
quick to jump in as both judge and jury to solve all their problems? How were children
learning to “be good”for good’s sake when I was bribing them with rewards? Why did I
make it my job to manage children’s behavior? Shouldn’t I focus instead on ways to give
them the guidance and practice they needed to manage their own behavior?
One day in a workshop, a group of teachers listed all the strategies we used to
teach children language and literacy. Lo and behold, time out wasn’t on the list.
Neither was the loss of recess, exclusion from the group, or guilt. Instead, we teamed
reading-challenged children with other children in the class who could read.We gave
them extra one-on-one practice, and we made sure they never felt inadequate. We
gave them messages that there was nothing wrong with them and that we would all
work together as a team to support them.Punishment was out of the question! If we
punished them,wouldn’t the child avoid reading or feel stupid and different from the
rest ofthe children?
Ifwe didn’t make children feel bad to help them learn how to read,why,then,did
we try to make children feel bad to help them act good?
The clouds cleared and the sun rose and I had my moment ofepiphany.I heard the
Big Message:The way most ofus instinctively react to misbehavior is the least effective
way to help children develop good behavior.
I probably should have felt good about this revelation,but I didn’t.I knew I had to
change my old practices,but I had no idea what to put in their place.I didn’t even know
anymore what my role was supposed to be in a child’s life.
Beyond Behavior Managementxxiiii