Installing Discipline in Children

The Tale of Two Different Teachers, and What You Can Do at Home

Discipline is important to instill in young people. It’s not just used to control behaviour; it is an important life skill which goes hand in hand with a lot of other skills that we use every day. Discipline can also give us the ability to focus, higher level of self-esteem and confidence.


Just having started teaching in a school I was interested to see the different approach of two more experienced teachers. The first has always been a school teacher, and in her spare time, a ballet teacher. The second teacher teaches the older of the two classrooms, she was originally an arts teacher who moved into full-time school teaching.

First teacher is known around the school for the behavior she gets from students. She makes the students aware from day one what is expected of them, and that no shenanigans are accepted. They are well behaved, quiet and work well when she is around. Second teacher has a much more carefree and reactive approach to discipline, which causes the students to push the boundaries more and actually have a lower attitude of school. Because of this she works harder trying to run the class on the go.

Discipline GymnastCredit: and foremost it is important to make sure that your discipline regime is formal. It is spelled out to everyone involved, and there are no short cuts. Everyone must know where they stand in the situation and why it is important to hold these beliefs. Whether this is teachers discussing the rules of their classroom on the first day of school (typically a stressful day with teachers), or parents talking to their children about what the rules are about curfews etc.

First teacher lays down the law on the first day, not that some aspects don’t change over time as she gets to know the students, but there is a strong foundation laid on the first day. The children know what's expected of them, and she knows what the children expect from her. Second teacher does have rules too, general classroom rules which are broad or tell students what not to do. No bullying or no excluding other students. Telling children what you want them to do is much more effective than telling them what they shouldn’t be doing, this can actually make the smarter kids inquisitive, and think what happens if…


Another important part of discipline for people of any age is to have a routine and stick to it so the kids know what is going on. The best way to learn discipline is through routine, doing the same thing over and over. This routine builds discipline through familiarity, the kids know what to expect. The first teacher has a routine, every day the kids come to class they know where to put their lunches, hand in their diary and how to behave until they receive their instructions. They may not say they like it, but their actions speak louder than words.

You can start with something basic so they can understand the format of what you are doing. Have them sitting down for one hour or doing the same work for an hour. Then build on that, do something a little more interesting and give them some more leeway, but only when they earn it.

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Positive Reinforcement

The first teacher has a behavioral control method that works for some kids. She writes the students names on the white board at the start of the week. Each student receives a tick for good behavior, so it’s a competition for the kids to see how many ticks they can get for good behavior. Some kids respond more to doing well, and scoring is a good way of setting the bar. You can do this at home too, a piece of paper or a whiteboard on the fridge. If you are going to use this technique, it helps to have a reward for the child that does the best. Make it something special that they value (computer time, money, chocolate, if they are young your time and attention will be the best reward.)

There is the other side to positive reinforcement, which is negative reinforcement, or avoiding punishment. If you want kids to do something quickly, like get ready to go to school before the bus leaves, you can use a timer. First teacher will countdown to kids to warn them that they are doing that she does not approve of, and to do something else. At home for something more official you can use the timer on the microwave or oven.

This technique works best for kids who like being organised and don’t like negative attention. Some kids may not see the benefit and if they don’t put the effort in to get organised on time you may want to try something else. 


Continue reading part II