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Discipline: How Do Children Change?

February 11, 2014


In this series of 6 blogs, I began by introducing the topic of discipline.  To review, I suggested that most of us would agree that discipline is needed to teach children self control, and to help them learn to accept responsibility. Teaching good behaviour is preferable to punishing bad behavior, but as adults we often react to poor behaviour, due to a lack of skill, lack of knowledge of other methods of behavior management, limited time, or tiredness. This is especially true if we are dealing with a large number of children.


I wrote in the blog Discipline: An Introduction that when training on this topic, the first thing we discuss is if there is a difference in discipline and punishment. A definition of discipline is ‘to bring a state of order and obedience through training’ and is something we do FOR the child, NOT to the child.  A definition of punishment is ‘to bring a penalty, pain or loss for some offence or fault’


Now I suggest that every child can learn and change. Each one is precious and unique, and we need to seek to find that ‘special key’ to unlock their potential.                     

We, as the adults in their lives, need to remain optimistic that all children can learn and change. This will affect our quality of care; it gives us patience and hope.


Children Learn and Change when:


  • Their basic needs are met

  • They feel safe and secure in their environment

  • Their pain and stresses are relieved

  • They are stimulated and have fun

  • They receive understanding and feedback from adults

  • They compare and model appropriate behaviour from peers

  • They mature in their development

  • They practice new behaviour and tasks, and so gain mastery/competence

  • They achieve a positive self esteem, through praise, acceptance and respect

  • They are encouraged to express their feelings

  • They receive positive discipline, not punishment

  • They feel a sense of belonging. iv


I ask the conference participants to discuss in pairs, which one of the above factors are most important, and why? Are there more?


Additional Challenges for Child Caregivers


Caregivers already have a lot of skills and experience in dealing with unacceptable behaviour. However, in caring for children in care there are often additional challenges. These may include:

Lack of training on discipline/punishment and suitable methods

Lack of training to deal with complex behavioural problems

Low staff ratio to a large number of children: caregivers need a quick and effective method of discipline


Caregiver ‘burnout’, therefore less energy, patience etc.

There are often no long term relationships between caregivers and the children

There are no, or inadequate, records of the children’s past history

Information may not be shared due to confidentiality concerns

The children may come into care from crisis situation, such as abandonment, death, war, and therefore be in trauma

The children may have had inadequate parenting

The need to conform to the policies of the organisation (E.g. no smacking)

Lack of conformity and consistency of discipline, which may not occur with large staff numbers, rosters etc.

No care plan for individual children, which details their appropriatediscipline method


If you find the newsletters and blogs useful, you can register to get the monthly newsletter on www.janettepepall.com.


You can also purchase our 8 module National Training: Understanding and Responding to God’s Vulnerable Children, or the National Training: Understanding and Responding to Children in Crisis training packages. You can also buy the modules separately.



The website for these valuable resources is www.nationaltrainingforchildrenatrisk.com

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