No Gold Stars Here

This article in The Washington Post describes not only the inefficacy of classroom ‘behavior management’ systems, but also the myriad negative effects that can result from these systems..

Not only are children experts at sniffing out manipulation and coercion (and they respond negatively – as we all do – when they feel forced or bribed), but, most importantly, children’s behavior is a deep, complex and relationship-oriented set of responses, not a simple choice motivated by a desire for a certain reward (or avoidance of a negative consequence). By relying on these types of systems to attempt to influence student’s behavior, teachers negatively impact the only real source of power they have to influence behavior – their relationship with each child. By using ‘trinkets’ (extra recess time, a sticker etc.), teachers give away and cheapen the beauty and power of relationship. It is through relationship – a sense of being seen and valued by their teacher – that children connect and respect; children want to be good for those adults to whom they are attached.

And, guess what? This (of course) applies at home, too. Those sticker charts? Those marble jars? All those other myriad systems parents have developed to attempt to influence the behavior of our children? They’re worthless! They might “work” at first, but after a while, children wise up to being manipulated and “don’t care” about the rewards (or punishments) anymore.

You know what never wears out? Deep and loving connection. If we work to, in the words of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, “be our children’s best bet”, we have their hearts and they want to do our bidding; they want to be good for us. And when they aren’t? Well, that could be immaturity (good intentions, inability due to immature brain to follow through) or counterwill (more about that in my Discipline class), but – regardless – we remember and believe in their good intentions.

Relationship is sacred; as parents and teachers, we need to protect our children’s dignity; not post the fluctuations of their daily behavior on wall charts for all to see.

Leave a Comment