The key to successful discipline and reshaping a child’s brain

"How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner’s mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished. (Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.).... But consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them".

 

"Psychologist Ross Greene was trained in behavior modification techniques—a.k.a. the Skinner method—as are most people who work with families and children. But in his early clinical work as a Virginia Tech graduate student, he began to question the approach. He’d get parents to use consequences and rewards, but the families kept struggling mightily with the basics—from dressing to chores and bedtimes. To Greene, it felt like he was treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease".

 

 

"Around the same time, he learned about new brain research by neuroscientists who were looking at brain functions with powerful fMRI machines. They found that the prefrontal cortex of our brains was instrumental in managing what is called executive function—our capacity to control impulses, prioritize tasks, and organize plans. Other research suggested that the prefrontal cortexes of aggressive children actually hadn’t developed, or were developing more slowly, so that they simply did not yet have brains capable of helping them regulate their behavior".

 

"But brains are changeable. Learning and repeated experiences can actually alter the physical structure of the brain, creating new neuronal pathways. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel found that memory may be stored in the synapses of our nervous system. He won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for studying the Aplysia, a very simple sea slug, and discovering that when it “learned” something, like fear, it created new neurons.

The implications of this new wave of science for teachers are profound: Children can actually reshape their brains when they learn and practice skills. What’s more, Dweck and other researchers demonstrated that when students are told this is so, both their motivation and achievement levels leap forward. “It was all sitting there waiting to be woven together,” Greene says. He began coaching parents to focus on building up their children’s problem-solving skills. It worked".

 

This all requires a dramatic change in mindset and workflow.

 

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline."

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired."

 

"For example, a child might act out because he felt that too many people were “looking at him in the circle.” The solution? “He might come up with the idea of sitting in the back of the room and listening,” Principle Nina D’Aran says. The teachers and the student would come up with a plan to slowly get him more involved. “Now we’re talking to the child and really believing the child when they say what the problems are.”"

 

 

“Behaviorally challenging kids are still poorly understood and are still being treated in ways that are adversarial, reactive, punitive, unilateral, ineffective, counterproductive,” he told the audience. “Not only are we not helping, we are going about doing things in ways that make things worse. Then what you have to show for it is a whole lot of alienated, hopeless, sometimes aggressive, sometimes violent kids.”

 

"Greene's model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”"

 

These excerpts are taken from an article written by KATHERINE REYNOLDS LEWIS in Mother Jones, designed as an abstract / summery.

Read the full article here: www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/schools-behavior-discipline-collaborative-proactive-solutions-ross-greene/ 

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