Esteem-Enhancing DisciplineTM

Gloria J. Schneider
Director, TLC Counseling & Training Center

    Our society is searching for a discipline approach that falls somewhere between authoritarianism and permissiveness.  Attempts have been made to find a middle ground that would solve the serious social problems in our schools, but nothing has seemed to work.  Teachers are experiencing discipline problems in their classrooms that sometimes are so drastic that they seem to defy solution.  The purpose of this paper is to facilitate the understanding of the workings of a child's mind so that discipline can be effective in reducing antisocial, acting-out behavior.  Thus, the true function of discipline - self-discipline - can be realized.

The goal is to help a child move away from narcissism and into love and caring.  Narcissism is a normal phase of development; young children think only of themselves.  Around Two, if their needs are being met, children move into object relations.  However, if the child either does not make this transition, or if he makes the transition and then regresses back to narcissism, he is left with an anger that in extreme cases can lead to criminality.  The child is angry that his or her needs were not met, due to abuse, overindulgence, or rejection.  He feels he must take care of himself - that he cannot trust anyone else to do it. Thus, it is vital that a discipline approach address narcissism, problematic anger, and the outcroppings of this anger, e.g. violence.

     The authoritarian/punitive approach can be very effective in the short range, but problems can emerge later.  The permissive approach reinforces acting-out behavior.  Both of these approaches cause anger in children; because they do not meet the needs of the child.  So far, there has not been an intermediate approach that gives us a solution.

     Esteem-Enhancing DisciplineTM offers the solution to the problem.  It requires that a teacher ask herself/himself three questions before each disciplinary interaction: (1)Will it work, (2) Will it build the child's self-esteem, and (3) Will it build my relationship with this child?  Unless it will accomplish all three, it is not the optimum interaction.    

     This approach works because it meets a child's need for firm discipline, high self-esteem and meaningful relationships.  These three elements are the key to helping a child develop away from narcissism and into object relations.

     The first question, (1) Will it work? is important because the child needs, firm, clear guidelines that take into consideration his or her developmental level, physical and emotional state at the time of the interaction.  Children also need to know what is expected of them - and the teacher should never expect of a child something which the teacher himself or herself does not model.  Staying positive, offering choices, expecting the best from a child, being consistent, using few words, taking action all help make the discipline work well.

     The second question, (2) Will it build the child's self-esteem? is vitally important.  Studies have shown a significant correlation between self-esteem and misbehavior, ranging from antisocial tendencies to crime and violence.  The one most consistent characteristic of criminals is low self-esteem.  The single most important factor in building self-esteem in children is meeting their developmental needs. When their physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs (Maslow) are met, they respond with high self-esteem. Feeling good about themselves is directly linked to acceptable behavior.  To meet these needs, a respectful, friendly, supportive approach is needed.

     The third question, (3) Will it build my relationship with this child? is the answer to obtaining the leverage a teacher needs to control his or her class.  The leverage evolves from the development of  mutually respectful interactions between teacher and child.  The teacher has the power to begin this process by giving the child what the teacher would want to receive back in return.  Never implement any consequence on a child that would humiliate or embarrass the teacher, if he/she were the recipient of the consequence.  Basically, what goes around comes around.

      In closing, by studying the elements of this approach, it can be seen that children develop empathy as they see that their needs are important to us.  They can stop fighting for love and acceptance, because we are freely and unconditionally giving it.  We don't love everything that they do, but we love them as unique, irreplaceable persons.  The dearest need of us all is to be loved and accepted - and that is the power of this approach.

This article was originally published in Treatment Today Magazine, August 1993


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