How to Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards

By Marvin Marshall, Ed.D.

Teacher helping young student
Mosuno/Stocksy United

Young people today come to school with a different orientation than past generations. Traditional student disciplining approaches are no longer successful for far too many young people. For example, a parent related the following to us after a discussion of how society and youth have changed in recent generations:

"The other day, my teenage daughter was eating in a rather slovenly manner, and I lightly tapped her on the wrist saying, "Don't eat that way."
My daughter replied, "Don't abuse me."
The mother had grown up in the 1960s and volunteered the point that her generation tested authority but most were really afraid to step out of bounds. She related that her daughter was a good child and added, "But the kids today not only disrespect authority, they have no fear of it." And, because of rights for young children—which we should have—it's hard to instill that fear without others claiming abuse.

So, how can we discipline students, so we as teachers can do our jobs and teach these young children who refuse to learn?

In many cases, we resort to punishment as a strategy for motivation. For example, students who are assigned detention and who fail to show are punished with more detention. But in my questioning about the use of detention in hundreds of workshops around the country, teachers rarely suggest detention is actually effective in changing behavior.

Why Detention is an Ineffective Form of Punishment

When students are not afraid, punishment loses its effectiveness. Go ahead and give the student more detention that he simply won't show up to.

This negative, coercive discipline and punishment approach is based on the belief that it is necessary to cause suffering to teach. It's like you need to hurt in order to instruct. The fact of the matter, however, is that people learn better when they feel better, not when they feel worse.

Remember, if punishment were effective in reducing inappropriate behavior, then there would be NO discipline problems in schools.

The irony of punishment is that the more you use it to control your students' behaviors, the less real influence you have over them. This is because coercion breeds resentment. In addition, if students behave because they are forced to behave, the teacher has not really succeeded. Students should behave because they want to—not because they have to in order to avoid punishment.

People are not changed by other people. People can be coerced into temporary compliance. But internal motivation—where people want to change—is more lasting and effective. Coercion, as in punishment, is not a lasting change agent. Once the punishment is over, the student feels free and clear. The way to influence people toward internal rather than external motivation is through positive, non-coercive interaction.

Here's how...

How to Motivate Students to Learn Without Using Punishments or Rewards

Great teachers understand that they are in the relationship business. Many students—especially those in low socio-economic areas—put forth little effort if they have negative feelings about their teachers. Superior teachers establish good relationships AND have high expectations.

Great teachers communicate and discipline in positive ways. They let their students know what they want them to do, rather than by telling students what NOT to do.

Great teachers inspire rather than coerce. They aim at promoting responsibility rather than obedience. They know that OBEDIENCE DOES NOT CREATE DESIRE.

Great teachers identify the reason that a lesson is being taught and then share it with their students. These teachers inspire their students through curiosity, challenge, and relevancy.

Great teachers improve skills that prompt students to WANT to behave responsibly and WANT to put effort into their learning.

Great teachers have an open mindset. They REFLECT so that if a lesson needs improvement they look to themselves to change BEFORE they expect their students to change.

Great teachers know education is about motivation.

Unfortunately, today's educational establishment still has a 20th-century mindset that focuses on EXTERNAL APPROACHES to increase motivation. An example of the fallacy of this approach is the defunct self-esteem movement that used external approaches such as stickers and praise in attempts to make people happy and feel good. What was overlooked was the simple universal truth that people develop positive self-talk and self-esteem through the successes of THEIR OWN EFFORTS.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Marshall, Dr. Marvin. "How to Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Marshall, Dr. Marvin. (2020, August 26). How to Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards. Retrieved from Marshall, Dr. Marvin. "How to Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards." ThoughtCo. (accessed July 29, 2021).