Use and promote a positive discipline approach
Part of children’s natural development is taking risks and pushing boundaries. When children behave in ways that are inappropriate, unkind or risky children learn best from a natural, logical consequence. There are three basic principles that underlie the successful application of this.
- That the consequences are related
- When a child writes on a desk, the related consequence would be to have him or her clean up the desk
- When a child is unkind to another, the related consequence would be for the child to do something kind for the other child
- That the consequence is respectful
- That the consequence is reasonable
Practice positive discipline and teach children how to use it too.
Use physical movement to support learning
Using physical movement in activities improves learning. This is learning by doing: if children can physically ‘do’ something that is related to the learning point, they will remember it better. For example, rather than saying I agree or I disagree, the children move to an I agree or I disagree position or poster in the room.
Use plenty of energizers in between sessions or at the beginning or if the mood gets low. Get children involved in facilitating energizers they know. These can be songs, clapping games and movement games.
Dealing with difficult behaviour
Trying to attract attention and demonstrating one’s power are the most common underlying reasons for negative behaviours at home and in school. Children also misbehave if they feel rejected or inadequate.
In countries and communities where violence (such as beatings) against children to punish them is a way of life, it is a challenge to involve and engage children meaningfully. This is because violence damages child development and has a negative impact on a child’s behaviour. Violent punishment teaches children to hide mistakes, shift the blame to other children and tell a lie or avoid being caught the next time. It leads children to believe they are bad, naughty, careless and worthless. They may feel angry and want to take revenge against the person who beat him. Beating may lead to children becoming more obedient through fear. It may make a child a more violent adult. How much better for child development to realise the right and wrong of the situation as well as other possible solutions for next time.
Desire for attention is a common need and motivation for many children. If children cannot get attention in positive ways group, they can try to attract attention in negative ways such as disrupting a group. Adults can punish or flatter the child to stop these misbehaviours. This, however, may give the child exactly the result he or she has been seeking: the adult’s attention. As such, they learn to repeat those behaviours.
Things to try
- Ignore the misbehaviour and give children attention when they behave well.
- Look sternly at the child without saying a word.
- Redirect the child into a more positive behaviour.
- Remind the child about the task he or she should be doing, give the child potential choices
- Impose a logical consequence
- Set up a schedule in which adults can spend time with the child with difficult behaviour on a regular basis
- Work with the parents or other caregivers to use a consistent and positive approach.
From a very young age, children desire to test their power. They measure their self worth through challenging adults and the established boundaries. The constant testing of limits may cause adults to become frustrated or angry.
- Stay calm. Don’t enter a battle. Allow the child to cool off.
- Remember an argument needs at least two people to take place.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Then state the effect they have on you/others
I can see that you are upset. When you are shouting I/we feel x because y
- Discuss how to avoid similar problems in the future
- Help the child to realise that he or she can use power and strength in a more constructive way. Remember that either contending the child’s power or compromising will make the child more eager to test his or her power again in the future.
Questions and comments
At the end of each session, ask children for their questions and comments before asking them specific questions on the activity or ask them to ask each other. Try to get into the habit of this even if the children do not say anything at first. This helps to build their confidence and they will learn to expect the questions. If they are reluctant to write just do this verbally – in small groups, in pairs in the whole group.
The feedback sandwich
This is a positive way adult workers can give feedback to individuals or groups. It can be taught to children to use with their peers.
- Say something positive e.g., That was an imaginative idea! I really like your idea; then
- Say something to improve upon. Now spend a few minutes thinking of a different example from your own life; and finish with
- Something positive. You have really given us all something to think about
Be sincere and specific in the feedback. Teach children how to give positive, helpful feedback.
Encourage respect in the group
Encourage the children to use the following phrase after expressing an opinion about something – That’s my/our view! This helps children learn that everyone has their own unique view of the world. For example: I think that girls and boys should be treated equally. That’s my/our view!
I liked what you said about…
In a discussion, before criticizing or adding to an opinion, encourage children to say first what they liked about the idea (even how it was said, when it was said). For example, I liked what you said about smoking and I agree that it stops me feeling hungry. But I think smoking is bad for our bodies and that we should stop. The children could add, and that’s us, if you have taught them this technique!
Inappropriate behaviour, not bad person
It is a child’s behaviour that is bad, not the child who is bad. Reinforce this by using words that focus on the behaviour and not the person. For example: Shouting at others is not helpful. Teach this important point to children.
Encourage and validate
Focus on children’s progress and contribution and not on achievement and competition. Show children how to encourage each other especially when they are struggling with something difficult. Enable children to self-assess. Validate
Children’s efforts and improvement. Encourage them to notice good things about each other. Do not praise where it is not deserved or your praise will become meaningless to the children – who can tell the difference! Avoid favouritism and only make promises you can keep.
Avoid value judgements
Use value-free language to deal constructively with difficult situations and controversial issues (and continue to highlight unacceptable words or behaviour). This useful phrase responds to hurtful words or behaviour in a value-free way that reduces conflict.
- When you say/do X … I feel Y … because Z …
- When you interrupt me, I feel annoyed because I want you to hear what I have to say.
Facilitators can teach this tool to the children to use with each other.
Promote the positive
Ask children to identify what’s good about x and discuss, how can we make x happen more or more often? When we say, don’t fight to children we focus attention on fighting. It is better to focus messages on positive or desirable qualities, for example, let’s see how kind you can be by letting your friend play with that toy for a while. Maybe he will let you play with his toy another time. Try to get children to visualize the behaviour we want them to adopt.
Asking private questions
If the children have writing skills, they can write private questions on pieces of paper. These questions can be put anonymously in a box. The questions can be answered in front of the group. This allows children to have private questions answered without fear or embarrassment. The anonymous box can also be used to make complaints and to evaluate.
In participatory work with children, there is often lots of group work. Vary how you set up the groups, the types of discussions they have and the ways in which they report and conclude the session. Make groups of different sizes for different reasons. Keep your group work varied. Children can become as bored with group work as they can with chalk and talk. Use imaginative ways to divide children into groups for example the fruit salad game at the end of this section. If some of the children are shy to speak, ask them to discuss things first in pairs, then share these ideas with a small group and then, if appropriate, with the whole group. (For more on working with children in groups see Tool 3, Module 5 page xyz).
Mixed Ability Groups
All groups of children include children with different abilities, for example at different stages of literacy. Consider how you will manage this. For example, even if the majority in the group are non-literate, you can use symbols and drawings on large pieces of paper and request drawings to share and record ideas. Children understand the different uses of literacy by observing them and this helps to motivate and encourage them to gain more literacy skills. Don’t present large amounts of text on charts.
Monitoring and evaluation tools
Here are some monitoring tools you can use in addition to the monitoring questions suggested after each activity.
Set up a line of five chairs across the room. Label the chairs to indicate that they represent a range of feelings from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
Strongly Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
You can use drawings of faces on the chairs too.
- Read statements such as:
- The session was interesting
- I understand more about (this topic) now
- Ask the children to stand behind the chair that represents their answer to each question.
- You can also ask the children to explain why they have chosen that answer.
- Divide the children into groups. The groups sit around a large piece of paper with the letter, ‘H’ written onto it. (See illustration below)
- Under the happy face in the left column, the children list all the things they liked about the activity/workshop/programme.
- Under the sad face in the left in the right column, the children list all the things they didn’t like.
- Write a scale of 1-5 across the middle horizontal line. Ask children to make a cross to show how good they thought the activity/workshop/programme was. (You could use pebbles or seeds instead). Work out the average score for each group and is written in the upper middle section of the ‘H’.
- In the lower middle section, children are asked to list ideas for the future improvements of the workshop.
- Using the H diagram, each group feeds back their scores and their ideas. (If there are more than three groups, each group can put up their diagram and the whole group visits each other’s diagrams.)
If the children do not write easily then do this with the whole group verbally, with the children giving their responses and the adult work recording them in writing, drawing or using the agreed symbols.