Discipline tips you won't find in discipline books

I have read a lot about gentle discipline, positive discipline, loving guidance or whatever you prefer to call non-violent methods of setting limits for children. Some of my favorites include the Sears Discipline Book, Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, Common-Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers by Bridget Barnes and Steven York, and Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Kids, Parents and Power Struggles.

Several more discipline books are on my list to read someday. At least half a dozen friends have recommended Becky Bailey’s Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. The website of Attachment Parenting International links to lots of other resources, some of them geared toward special-needs or high-need children.

However, I’ve found that some of the advice that helped me most with discipline issues didn’t come from books about discipline.  

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Note to parents: If it's not working, change it

One of my golden rules of parenting is, “If it’s not working, change it.” We need to get creative if our bedtime routine, mealtime rituals, discipline techniques or outside activities stop meeting our family’s needs. Parents who are inflexible can get locked into power struggles that don’t fix the problem.

Des Moines Register editorial writer Linda Fandel’s follow-up on Isabel Loeffler reminded me of how well things can work out when parents are willing to question and change what isn’t working. In the summer of 2007 I was outraged by Fandel’s feature story on how a Waukee elementary school disciplined Isabel, an eight-year-old on the autism spectrum. She repeatedly spent long stretches in a timeout room as school staff kept resetting the clock when Isabel tried but failed to meet nearly impossible demands. The inappropriate and punitive use of the timeout room didn’t improve Isabel’s behavior and certainly didn’t create a good learning environment for her. Her parents pulled her out of the school and moved to California. Fandel writes:

Officials in the Waukee school district and the Heartland Area Education Agency, which helped prepare Isabel’s individualized learning plan, insisted they had done nothing wrong. But an administrative law judge in 2007 found that the district and AEA used interventions not consistent with accepted practice. That decision was upheld on appeal. A civil suit is pending.

Isabel’s father, Doug Loeffler, recently e-mailed Fandel to say that his daughter “loves school and is very active in several community groups that provide opportunities for children with special needs to work together with children without handicaps.” He also said there is growing interest nationally how schools misuse timeout rooms and physical restraint.

Last year the Iowa Board of Education adopted stricter rules on timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. I’m glad to know this is part of a national trend, but public policy is no substitute for parents who are willing to get involved and learn what is going on in their child’s school. If the Loefflers had not asked for a videotape to find out why their daughter wasn’t responding well to discipline at school, they never would have realized how inappropriate the school’s policy was.

This thread is for any comments on education, discipline or parenting.

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Board of Education adopts stricter rules on timeouts and physical discipline

The Iowa Board of Education adopted rules this week restricting the use of timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. According to the Des Moines Register,

The rules restrict some forms of restraint, such as holding a student facedown on the floor. Educators must get permission from school administrators to confine children in timeout rooms for longer than an hour.

School officials also must attempt to contact parents and document every time they use the discipline method.

Click here to read a more detailed summary of the rules proposed this summer.

The Register reported that the new rules are “similar to guidelines approved recently in Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

The restrictions are a step in the right direction but may not go far enough to deter schools from using timeout rooms excessively. This report from last summer about the treatment of some special-needs children in Waukee Community School District elementaries was quite disturbing. It’s not just the length of time children were confined in the rooms, it’s also the frequency with which teachers resorted to this form of discipline.

This website on techniques for dealing with special-needs children notes that “repeating time-outs too frequently in too short a period of time greatly limits their effectiveness.”

Two families whose children were sent often (and for long stretches) to timeout rooms in Waukee schools have sued the school district. Those lawsuits have yet to be resolved in federal court.

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