Q: I teach 3- and 4-year-olds in a childcare center in Australia. I always have a few difficult children in any group and the book in which you describe alpha speech ("The Well-Behaved Child") has been very helpful. My disciplinary options are limited to separating a misbehaving child out of the group for a few minutes and talking, but I cannot isolate or take privileges away. Besides, it seems that the worst kids’ parents undo at home what we accomplish in the classroom. Some of them even side with their children when they misbehave. Meanwhile, we walk on eggshells when it comes to discipline so that a parent doesn’t file a complaint against us with child protection. What suggestions do you have for preschool teachers?
A: Go back to school and learn automobile repair. Better yet, learn baking. Hardly anyone ever sends dessert back to the kitchen.
American preschool teachers also complain to me that concerning classroom discipline, their hands are tied by their supervisors and they get little support from parents. Consequently, kids whose behavior problems could have been brought under control in preschool take them to elementary school where they are “identified,” diagnosed, and medicated. Because dedicated people like yourself are unable to discipline effectively, Big Pharma profits.
Once upon a time, children were afraid of adults. I was afraid of adults, for example. I didn’t quake in my sneakers around them, mind you, but I had a healthy respect for the life-changing influence they exercised in my life. In the late 1960s, mental health professionals began demonizing everything about traditional childrearing.
Today, most children are not afraid of adults and child mental health is much, much worse. And if that’s not sad enough, consider that many of the parents I counsel are afraid of their children.
Let’s get something out of the way: I am by no means recommending that adults be frightening. Children should feel comfortable and secure around adults, but they should “fear” them. They should be clear that adults run the show and will enforce the rules. Children are “afraid” of adults who simply act like authority figures. They mind their P's and Q’s around adults who embrace their roles as leaders of children.
Said adults don’t bend over at the waist when they talk to children. They stand up, like people who possess confidence in their natural authority. They don’t scream and yell. They tell children what to do in short sentences that don’t end in “OK?” When children misbehave, they don’t become flustered and threaten, as in, “If you do that one more time…!” They act, calmly and with purpose, proving they mean what they say.
Children trust adults who fit that description. Obedience is an act of trust, and children benefit from it. Research finds that a child’s sense of well-being is proportionate to his or her level of obedience. We don’t even need scientists to tell us something so commonsensical.
Giving children reasons and choices and letting them express their feelings may sound wonderful, but what children truly need are adults who tell them what to do, set firm boundaries, and enforce rules…adults who act like adults.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.