A Different Kind
of Discipline




Dedicated to Catherine Ruddle, whose parenting and teaching put flesh on the ideas in this book



Title page


Part I: Introduction

Chapter 1: Moving towards True Discipline

The discipline of old was ill-conceived

Popular misconceptions

Need for home–school liaison

Discipline and person are separate issues

Helping victims and perpetrators are separate issues

What discipline is not

What discipline is

Part II: The Discipline Problem

Chapter 2: What are Discipline Problems?

Discipline problems

Discipline problems in the home

Discipline problems in the school

Chapter 3: The Causes of Discipline Problems

The cause signifies the ‘cure’

Causes arising from home

Causes arising from within children

Causes arising from peers

Causes arising from teachers

Causes arising from staff relationships

Causes arising from school leadership

Causes arising from school environment

Causes arising from outside home and school

Chapter 4: Discipline Problems are Cries for Help

The protective nature of children’s discipline problems

The protective nature of parents’ discipline problems

The protective nature of teachers’ discipline problems

The cry for help in children’s discipline problems

The cry for help in parents’ discipline problems

The cry for help in teachers’ discipline problems

The unique nature of discipline problems

Part III: Discipline is about Safeguarding Rights

Chapter 5: The Rights of Children, Parents and Teachers

What safeguarding rights means

Rights common to all

Children’s rights within the home

Students’ rights within the school

Parents’ rights

Teachers’ rights

Chapter 6: Mutual Responsibility

Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand

Parents’ responsibilities towards children

Children’s responsibilities towards parents

Children’s responsibilities towards each other

Students’ responsibilities towards teachers

Teachers’ responsibilities towards students

Teachers’ responsibilities towards each other

Teachers’ responsibilities towards principals

Principals’ responsibilities towards teachers

Teachers’ responsibilities towards parents

Parents’ responsibilities towards teachers

Chapter 7: Empowerment of Children, Parents and Teachers

What empowerment means

Chapter 8: Safeguarding Children’s Rights

Creating structures that safeguard rights

Safeguarding the rights of children

Safeguarding children’s rights in the home

Safeguarding students’ rights in the school

Chapter 9: Safeguarding Parents’ Rights

Parents’ rights need safeguarding too!

Safeguarding parents’ rights in the home

Safeguarding parents’ rights in the school

Chapter 10: Safeguarding Teachers’ Rights

Teachers’ rights need safeguarding too!

Part IV: Prevention and Intervention

Chapter 11: All Discipline Starts with Self

Rights in relationship with self


Personal structures to safeguard rights


Chapter 12: Preventing Discipline Problems

Prevention in the home

Prevention in the school

Chapter 13: Resolving Discipline Problems

When discipline systems fail

Resolving discipline problems in the home

Resolving discipline problems in the school

Part V: Beyond Discipline

Chapter 14: Responding to the Cries for Help

Beyond discipline

Responding to the cries for help of children

Responding to the cries for help of parents

Responding to the cries for help of teachers

Chapter 15: Caring Homes and Schools

Creating communities of care

Caring homes

Caring schools


About the Author

About Gill & Macmillan




Moving towards True Discipline

The discipline of old was ill-conceived
Popular misconceptions
Need for home–school liaison
Discipline and person are separate issues
Helping victims and perpetrators are separate issues
What discipline is not
What discipline is

The discipline of old was ill-conceived

Discipline problems are not a new phenomenon; on the contrary, discipline problems among adults, parents, teachers and clergy have long been commonplace. To say that discipline problems are now more prevalent in homes, schools and communities is accurate to the extent that children are displaying more of these difficult behaviours. But they had good teachers. For decades, parents, teachers and clergy ruled children through fear and intimidation. Behaviours such as shouting, pushing, shoving, beating, hitting, criticising, threatening, ridiculing and scolding were commonplace in homes, schools and churches. Adults who believe that these reactions to children constituted the practice of discipline are sadly misinformed. Such discipline practices were abusive, and whilst they may have fostered quiet in homes and classrooms, they fostered little else of a positive nature. Furthermore, their blocking of the emotional, social and educational development of children had major consequences: many children dreaded failure, lived in fear, were turned off learning and often carried feelings of rage and revenge into their adult lives.

It is not that the adults who perpetrated such ill-disciplined responses towards children wanted deliberately to hurt. But they were members of a religious-dominated culture which believed that human beings were basically flawed and evil and needed to have the badness beaten out and the goodness beaten in. This conceptualisation of the person inevitably fostered ‘evil’ ways of treating children and, indeed, adults.

Why is it that authoritarianism – which was never desirable – is no longer producing the ‘quiet’ of old? There are many reasons; most notably that there has been a shift to a pluralist society in which many adults and children are now more educated and more empowered and will no longer accept being dominated and controlled by others.

Proper and humane discipline has never been widely practised. Authoritarianism was and is an act of undisciplined conduct. Those who bemoan its passing are clearly struggling with changing expectations and are in need of help to learn more constructive approaches to discipline. But now there is an opportunity to develop true discipline procedures that rest on the solid foundation of the wonder, value, lovability and capability of human beings. If the old concept of people being ‘bad’ persists, no real progress will be made in creating order and safety in homes, schools and communities. It is well documented that parents and teachers who love and respect children rarely encounter discipline problems. On the other hand, those who dislike children and who are authoritarian pile up many discipline problems for themselves.

Discipline is not a simple issue but one which demands considerable creativity, commitment, time and resources. It is an issue that many parents and teachers complain about, but one to which they do not give the kind of focus needed.

Popular misconceptions

Many parents and teachers see discipline problems solely in terms of under-controlled behaviours such as shouting, hitting, temper tantrums, uncooperative behaviour, back-answering, disruptive actions and so on. This is a very narrow view of the nature of discipline problems and one that is motivated by the need of parents and teachers to have a peaceful and ordered life. If discipline is to be defined as the practice of care and respect towards others and towards self then, surely, over-controlled behaviours such as passivity, timidity, shyness, elective mutism, non-assertiveness and avoidance are as unacceptable as under-controlled actions. Furthermore, if the aim of discipline systems is to create the emotional and social safety for each person in the social system (home, school, classroom, community) to self-actualise, then there needs to be as much concern for over-controlled behaviour as there tends to be for under-controlled actions. If under-controlled behaviours block the development of people, so too do over-controlled reactions. Ironically, the latter are far more common than the former. Over-controlled responses have not been targeted by discipline systems because they do not disrupt, visibly at least, the lives of others, whereas under-controlled actions do. However, unless discipline systems consider both sets of responses, it is unlikely that effective discipline will result.

A similar misconception of what constitutes discipline problems is reflected in schools’ reactions to bullying behaviour. Many schools have now developed anti-bullying campaigns. However, these anti-bullying systems do not target passivity, and unless there is an equally vigorous anti-passivity campaign, the anti-bullying mechanisms are unlikely to succeed. Both the children who bully and those who are victimised need empowerment (Chapter 7) and enhancement of their self-esteem (Chapter 14). Bullying and passivity are but the opposite sides of the same coin of emotional and social insecurity. However it may be reflected, this insecurity needs healing.

A very common misconception of discipline is that it applies only to children and pupils. It is common to witness teachers or parents berating children for an under-controlled response that they themselves frequently employ, for example shouting or ‘put down’ remarks. Discipline is as much an issue for adults as it is for children. Indeed, it is more of a responsibility for adults because children take the cues for many of their behaviours from adults. The basis of a good discipline system is adults being in control of themselves (Chapter 11). This also ensures that double standards – one law for children and another for adults – do not exist.

A related misconception to the foregoing one is that discipline is about controlling others. It is not the responsibility of parents and teachers to control children (that is an act of neglect), but it is their responsibility to help children control themselves. Effective teaching of any behaviour rests on the principle, ‘you should practise what you preach’. When parents and teachers regularly lose control with children, they are hardly in a position to demand self-control from children. Furthermore, ‘actions always speak louder than words’ and children tend to imitate the actions of adults. It is very confusing for children when, on the one hand, adults call for them to be responsible, whilst, on the other hand, the adults themselves abrogate that same responsibility. When teachers and parents lose control, it gives permission to children to act in a similar way and it also gives them the power to control adults. Children have had little responsible power in homes and classrooms, and so any chink in the armour of adults becomes an opportunity to control them.

The basis for an effective discipline system in schools and homes is for both adults and children to learn self-control (Chapter 11).

Need for home–school liaison

The most persistent offenders come from troubled homes. Teachers and parents need to be a collective force in creating effective discipline systems in homes and schools. Similar norms, predictability and consistency in applying discipline systems in homes and schools will certainly add to their credibility and durability. Both parents and teachers must not forget that a discipline system is there as much to safeguard children against adults’ lack of discipline as it is to safeguard adults’ rights in the face of under-controlled behaviour from children.

Particular attention will need to be paid to getting the cooperation of parents who are troubled themselves and may be reluctant to come to any kind of parent–teacher or formal meeting. Equally, a discipline system has to seriously look at means of vindicating the rights of children in the face of adults who continuously violate their rights and of getting those adults confidential professional help.

Nor should teachers have to put up with the minutest violation of their rights in or out of the classroom. It is a failure of a school discipline system when teachers spend more time attempting to control students than teaching them. Of course, neither should students have to tolerate disrespectful behaviour on the part of teachers. And, what is true for teachers and students in the school is also true for parents and children in the home.

The creation, endorsement and commitment to implementation of a just and caring discipline system by parents, teachers and children are the backbone of an effective system. The commitment involves clear communication about the system, predictable and consistent application, fine-tuning of the system as ‘weaknesses’ emerge, and strong support and cooperation from teachers, principals, management, students and parents. Frequent meetings are essential. Teachers need to back parents in setting up appropriate discipline systems in homes.

A further aspect of the proposed collective responsibility of teachers, parents and children (Chapter 6) is individual empowerment and determination to voice and vindicate their individual rights in schools and homes (Chapter 7).

All the parties to the establishment of discipline systems need to look at ways of preventing discipline problems (Chapter 12). A major aspect of preventing discipline problems is the recognition that all discipline starts with self (Chapter 11). A further important dimension of prevention is the nature of interrelationships between all those in positions of authority.

When discipline problems do occur, it is the discipline system that has failed rather than the people involved. Resolution of violated needs lies in finding and correcting the weaknesses in the system. However, a system is only as strong as its members. Individuals may need help for their under-controlled or over-controlled responses but the provision of such aid must be seen as a separate issue to that of the vindication of the rights of victims.

Discipline and person are separate issues

Whether or not the home or school or community develops an appropriate discipline system very much depends on the way the person is viewed. If human beings are seen as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’, order and harmony cannot be achieved in homes, schools and communities. If the person of each parent, teacher and child is regarded as unique and sacred and of immense value and worth, then there exists a solid foundation for effective discipline.

Discipline is part and parcel of human relationships and it is vital to see it within that dynamic social process. Unconditional love, acceptance and affirmation of a person’s vast intellectual potential correspond to the deepest longings, not only of every child, but of every adult as well. When the fundamental needs of human beings are enshrined in a discipline system, the cornerstone for an effective system has been well and truly laid.

What follows from this philosophy is that the person of each child, teacher and parent must not be threatened by any one bit of troublesome behaviour. Certainly, the difficult behaviour has to be confronted in order to restore the rights of victims that may have been violated, but this must be done in a way that leaves intact the self-esteem of both victim and perpetrator. It is implicit in this way of responding to undisciplined conduct that no relationship – whether between adults and children, adults and adults, principals and teachers or parents and teachers – must be broken because of either socially inappropriate actions or lack of appropriate actions. The aims must be threefold: maintain respect for the victim’s and the perpetrator’s person; maintain the relationship; and take clear and firm corrective action on the specific behaviour that has upset the equilibrium of the home, classroom or community.

Discipline is not just about what happens between people, such as parents and children, children and teachers, teachers and teachers – it is equally about what happens within people. Indeed, the latter is often a major determinant of the former. Many students, teachers and parents carry the emotional baggage of their own poor sense of lovability and capability into their respective roles. Unless there is great emphasis on caring for people (Chapter 15) and there are structures that can be availed of for healing inner hurts, discipline systems will fail in schools and homes.

Discipline has nothing to do with controlling disruptive or other unacceptable behaviours, whether on the part of children or adults. It has everything to do with ensuring a safe and valuing environment so that the rights and needs of people are respected, vindicated and safeguarded. Within the home, school and community each adult and child has the right to be loved, valued, seen for self, communicated with in open, respectful and equalising ways, and allowed to pursue legitimate work, leisure, spiritual and other goals in life. When such interactions are not present, it is incumbent on the members of the social system – be it the home, school or community – to devise structures that guard these basic human rights. Unfortunately, few such structures exist at present.

Helping victims and perpetrators are separate issues

There has been an unfortunate tendency to enmesh the issues of victims with those of perpetrators. This enmeshment has too often meant that the rights of victims of ill-discipline are neglected. When a discipline problem arises, the primary action that needs to be taken is the reinstatement of the violated rights of the victim. This is what a discipline system is all about. Only when this has been established can the focus be shifted to helping the perpetrator. All perpetrators are victims themselves and the concern must be to discover and resolve the underlying causes of aggressive or passive behaviour when it occurs. This issue goes beyond discipline (Part V) and must not be confused with discipline procedures (Parts III and IV).

What discipline is not

When discipline is employed with a view to controlling others it is unlikely to be successful. It may but generally will not achieve quietness, and it will not heal the aggressive or passive behaviours that led to the blocking of the needs of others. It certainly will not promote the ultimate goal of discipline, which must be mutual respect and caring between all the members of a social system.

Many teachers who spend the bulk of their time in the classroom attempting to control the unruly behaviour of pupils complain that all their efforts have little effect on the children; many parents have similar complaints. These discipline efforts tend to be authoritarian and aggressive in nature and are doomed to failure because they do not encapsulate the basic respect for another human being that adults would want for themselves.

When adults employ methods of control that are aggressive, dominating, cynical, sarcastic or manipulative, they are attempting to fight fire with fire and are being ‘abusive’ in ways similar to those of the children they are attempting to control. These strategies produce only more ill-disciplined reactions and a vicious cycle may now be created.

What discipline is

Discipline is about safeguarding the rights of people who are exposed to uncooperative, aggressive or other blocking responses on the part of others. Such safeguarding mechanisms are needed in homes, schools, workplaces and communities, and are needed in response to adults’ as much as to children’s under-controlled or over-controlled behaviour. An essential principle underpinning the approach of this book is that people are responsible for the fulfilment of their own needs and that the socially difficult behaviours of others must not block them from having their needs met. A second principle is that ill-disciplined actions are not designed to hurt or block another but are genuine attempts on the part of the perpetrators to get their own blocked needs met or to prevent experiences of failure, hurt and rejection. These themes will be elaborated throughout the book.

Taking cognisance of these two principles, this book will explore alternative and more effective ways of responding to under-controlled and over-controlled behaviours. Responses that are more likely to be successful need to include consideration of the following factors:

This book aims at creating effective discipline systems and healing systems that go beyond discipline in homes, schools and communities. It sees that the partnership of homes and schools is central. Part II of the book, ‘The Discipline Problem’, describes what constitutes and causes discipline problems (Chapters 2 and 3), and shows how discipline problems are cries for help (Chapter 4). Part III, ‘Discipline is about Safeguarding Rights’, sets out the rights and responsibilities of children, parents and teachers (Chapters 5 and 6), empowering procedures for children, parents and teachers (Chapter 7) and safeguarding structures required to uphold and vindicate the rights of victims (Chapters 8–10). Part IV, ‘Prevention and Intervention’, examines prevention of discipline problems (Chapters 11 and 12) and what to do when things go wrong (Chapter 13). Part V, ‘Beyond Discipline’, deals with responding to the cries for help of perpetrators (Chapter 14) and the creation of caring homes and schools (Chapter 15).

This book is a manual for everybody to set up caring and effective discipline systems in homes, schools and communities. It has direct relevance for all parents, parent groups, community groups, educators, school managers, boards of management, teachers’ unions, school inspectors and government.


The Discipline Problem


What are Discipline Problems?

Discipline problems
Discipline problems in the home
Discipline problems of parents
Discipline problems of children
Discipline problems in the school
Discipline problems of students
Discipline problems of teachers

Discipline problems

This chapter examines those discipline problems that typically arise in the home and in the school. Discipline problems occur when the presence of certain behaviours (under-controlled reactions) or the absence of certain behaviours (over-controlled reactions) jeopardises the rights and needs of others and, possibly, of the perpetrators themselves. Of course, this undisciplined conduct may be exhibited not only by children but also by adults. The target of those who employ under-controlled reactions is to control others, whilst the target of those who use over-controlled reactions is to control self, but in a way that blocks their own rights and needs. Accordingly, the aims of discipline systems will be to take care of the victims of under-controlled discipline problems and to empower the person who displays over-controlled reactions.

Discipline problems in the home

Parents can expect too much of children and too little of themselves in terms of disciplined behaviours. Parents would do well to understand that children learn most of their undisciplined conduct from them or other significant adults in the family. What parents ‘give out’ in terms of undisciplined behaviour is likely what they will get back.

Discipline problems of parents

Discipline problems can be categorised into under-controlled and over-controlled reactions. Parents who engage in under-controlled behaviours, a list of which is given below, do so out of their own low self-esteem and insecurities; whilst they have no intention of hurting their children, the fact is that hurt is what their children experience. Unless parents get to the source of their under-controlled actions, they are unlikely to change those behaviours that are devastating to their children’s overall development.

Parents’ under-controlled discipline problems

As a therapist I have helped mothers who for years ‘put up’ with being terrorised by their partners and did not stand up for the children when their father perpetrated the same physical and verbal violence on them. These children did not feel loved by either their father or their mother. Both had failed in parenting. The passivity of the mother resulted in as much neglect of the children as did the father’s aggression. For too long the aggressive parent – whether father or mother – has been seen as the ‘devil’ and the passive parent as the ‘martyr’ or ‘saint’. It is much more accurate to say that both the aggressive and the passive parent are engaging in undisciplined conduct and are failing to parent properly.

Parents’ over-controlled discipline problems

Parents who engage in over-controlled behaviours have not yet learned to parent themselves, and until this disciplined caring of themselves begins, they are not in a place to discipline and be unconditionally loving towards their children.

Discipline problems of children

The family culture is the most powerful influence on children. The nature of parents’ interactions with and reactions to each other and their children will largely determine whether children become mainly disciplined or undisciplined. Generally speaking, children tend to identify more strongly with one of their parents and will repeat that parent’s behavioural characteristics or will be diametrically opposite. When parents engage in either under-controlled or over-controlled responses, children in turn will present with discipline problems.

Children’s under-controlled discipline problems

Parents are much more likely to complain about children who engage in under-controlled behaviour than about those children who express their dissatisfaction with family life by means of over-controlled reactions.

When children exhibit over-controlled discipline problems, they tend to be either avoiders or compensators. The avoiders want to slide out of any home, social or school activity that threatens them. On the other hand, children who compensate overwork at the activities that threaten them. Hence these children can be those who constantly please parents in the home, are overeager to please relatives and other visitors to the home and are the ‘perfect’ students in school. Many parents and teachers misinterpret these children’s compensatory over-controlled behaviours as evidence of high self-esteem but the sad reality is that these children dread rejection and failure and do anything in their power to offset these threatening experiences.

Children’s over-controlled discipline problems

Children’s discipline problems are peculiar to their home situation and have to be seen, understood and responded to within that unique culture.

Discipline problems in the school

Typically, teachers view only under-controlled actions as discipline problems because these actions can seriously disrupt their classes. However, teachers must recognise that over-controlled behaviour can also have detrimental effects, not necessarily on classroom order, but on students’ emotional, social and educational development. Teachers must also accept that they too can exhibit over-controlled responses to stressful situations and that their lack of action can add to classroom disorder, increase their own stress levels, lower their level of self-esteem and cause strain in staff relationships.

Students’ over-controlled responses must be as much a cause for concern as are under-controlled responses. The lack of discipline behaviour shown by over-controlled students, principally towards themselves, needs to be corrected so that they can resume again a welfare path.

Examples of under-controlled discipline problems on the part of students and teachers are shouting, insolence, verbal aggression, physical aggression and sarcasm. Instances of over-controlled discipline problems which again may be enlisted by both students and teachers include passivity, people-pleasing, avoidance of confrontation, timidity, fearfulness and elective mutism.

The effects of both types of discipline problems will be determined by their frequency, intensity and duration in terms of both the length of time the particular behaviour lasts in the immediate situation (seconds, minutes, hours) and the length of time it has been presenting (days, weeks, years).

Some of the possible effects of discipline problems in the classroom are:

Physical distress arises where the victim (student or teacher) is pushed, shoved, pulled or hit. Emotional distress arises where the victim is called names, ‘put down’, sneered at or humiliated. Social distress arises from the public nature of some discipline problems where the victim feels embarrassed or ashamed; nobody, neither student nor teacher, wants to lose face in front of others. Intellectual distress arises when remarks are made about intelligence, when labels such as ‘fool’ or ‘stupid’ are used, or when failures or mistakes are laughed at or ridiculed.

Discipline problems of students

When examining the discipline problems of students there must be no intention to blame or judge, but only to highlight that such behaviours cannot be allowed to block the development of others. Indeed, as will be seen, students who perpetrate difficult behaviours are themselves victims of the problematic behaviours of others. The examples of under-controlled and over-controlled discipline problems given below are indicative of the kinds of discipline problems that teachers experience.

Students’ under-controlled discipline problems

In classroom

Outside classroom

This list is not exhaustive. Each teacher needs to make a list of the problems that occur in and outside the classroom so that appropriate actions can be taken to reinstate order, harmony and mutual respect in the classroom and school premises.