Parenting Vivian | 02 Sep 2010 09:26 pm

Are You Making a Common Mistake and Rewarding Children’s Bad Behaviour?

Hm… Is she simple you may be asking? Is she saying we should reward bad behaviour? Or perhaps saying we are rewarding bad behaviour but we shouldn’t be? What’s going on?

Let me tell you… Time after time I see adults unwittingly rewarding children for bad behaviour — I’ll give you an example later. ‘Rubbish!’ I can hear you saying… ‘Who, in their right mind would reward bad behaviour?’ Notice that I said that adults are doing the rewarding ‘unwittingly’? They don’t realise they are giving children the message that unacceptable behaviour is ok by acting wrongly when faced with bad behaviour.

So what are they doing wrong? Well, this can take a number of different forms…

1. Giving empty threats — I can’t remember the number times adults have told me that a child hasn’t done as asked after being told repeatedly. Children must know that they will receive a warning and then there’ll be a consequence if they don’t comply. I am often told that lack of time, too many other children to consider, forgetfulness or their parents wouldn’t like it, prevents a consequence being issued. But, if you don’t carry through and issue the consequence the child soon realises that nothing much is going to happen as a result of their bad behaviour. You’re giving a green light for bad behaviour to continue.

2. Removing a child from class — another favourite action. A child is messing about, has been told repeatedly not to do something and finally ‘Mr Smith’ is called to remove the child from class. I have often seen this happen but then the child is given jobs to to, colouring, one to one attention, all of which are not suitable consequences for behaving badly in class. The child needs a firm reminder that the behaviour shouldn’t be repeated so any task given should reinforce this message. One of my consequences is to give handwriting practise by the child copying out the ‘Treatise on Good Manners’ by Jonathan Swift. ‘Oh, I hate handwriting,’ they may say. ‘Sorry, but you chose the task because of your behaviour in class. So next time think about the consequence of not doing as you’re asked’, I reply. In short, ‘Tough’.

3 Issuing red cards — a ‘consequence’ that is totally open to abuse. And yet another way for adults to renege on their responsibility to discipline children and manage their behaviour. So what’s the problem with red cards? The child misbehaves, ignores the teacher’s instructions, is issued with a red card and sent from the room. Now, the child wanders the building at liberty, often completely unsupervised, and is free to cause more trouble. Red cards give too much control to the child rather than discipline being implemented by adults.

In a school I visited recently a child had been sent from class because of bad behaviour (not one from my group, thank heavens!) — they had refused to complete their work and followed this by being rude and threatening to the teacher and children. I asked what the child was expected to do to the remedy the situation. The support worker was unsure of what they were expected to do, no work had been set, and there was no policy relating to such incidents. Afternoon break time was imminent and no decision had been made as to whether the child should have their break time. So what happened? The child was playing games on a computer and looking forward to break time — quite happy, in fact. Not much of a reminder that their behaviour was completely unacceptable!

I was asked what should have happened. Well, a mundane task that involved minimal attention from adults — so often, too much attention is given to children who have behaved badly. Break time should definitely be forfeited. The child should write a letter of apology in their own time. A message has to be given that rudeness and bad manners have unpleasant consequences. Playing computer games (or any other pleasantry) under these circumstances gives completely the wrong message. It can even result in further problems as some children will learn to use bad behaviour as a means to escape from class and doing class work.

Children should receive a totally consistent message throughout the school from all adults to reinforce high expectations of behaviour.

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