Discipline 101: A Teacher's Guide to Keeping Order

Some classroom discipline tips that you can use at home

Discipline 101: A Teacher's Guide to Keeping Order

I wouldn’t suggest I’m an expert in parenting. As a new(ish) mom, I’m muddling through like many are, making game time decisions and frequently finding myself outsmarted by a 15-month-old. However, in my career I’ve been managing boisterous gaggles of children for many years, herding motley groups into effective learning situations with some success. And in that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about discipline that I try to remember to apply at home.

Here are a few bits of advice from my time in the teaching trenches. Maybe they will help you too.

Be Consistent

The most important guideline is also one of the hardest to stick to, at least for me. Once you’ve set out a rule and its consequence, you must stick with it. For example, I will say to a student, “If you disrupt the class one more time, then you owe me 5 minutes of recess.” Often, another disruption soon follows. The student will then plead, “Please, Ms. Chawla, I won’t do it again. Can I have another chance?” The answer must be no. They get a fresh start after recess and that is their other chance. I can’t back down once a consequence has been meted out—although, many times I want to and the rule breaking student is often highly persuasive.

Once a rule is internalized and followed by rote, then you can switch it up from time to time, with some explanation. “For special today, you can stay up 15 extra minutes and read your new book.” But, switches should be few and far between. Kids do well when they can predict the day and know what is expected of them. Seasoned teachers will tell you, they are extra strict in September and it sets up the expectations all the year through.

Articulate a rule. Explain why it’s important. Discuss what the penalty will be for breaking the rule. Make sure the penalty is enforced, EVERY SINGLE TIME. It's ok to change a rule based on the situation (always wear shoes at school, don’t wear shoes at home), but it’s never a good idea to threaten a consequence and not follow through.

Be Fair

The punishment must fit the crime and the rules must reflect something within a child’s control. I never take a kid’s entire recess. Not just because I need to use the bathroom during that break, but also because kids need a break. The most disruptive kids are usually the ones who need it most. It would be unfair to do so. 

Also unfair would be to hold a child accountable for something outside their control. Back in the day, students would be punished for things like low achievement in reading. A child might be made to stand in the hallway or at the front of the room, hoping such punishment would shame them into better marks. Thank goodness times have changed and now we understand that we need to teach this child differently. You cannot “consequence” a kid into reading better, any more than you can “consequence” them into growing taller. Trying to punish a kid for not achieving something will create anxiety during that task, which will make the task even harder.

Remember a child’s age and abilities when setting your expectations. Toddlers are made to squirm, run, and play. Don’t expect them to sit quietly through a long dinner at great Aunt Ester’s without making drum sticks out of the cutlery. A child’s ability to sit still improves slightly with age, so adjust your expectations and activities accordingly. 

You can expect your kid to make their bed, but don’t expect hospital corners.

Be Proactive

Kids, like husbands, often need reminders. They benefit from redirecting their behaviour before a transgression occurs. In my classroom, I spend a lot of time making sure my expectations are clear and fresh in their minds. “When you receive your test paper, put your name on top and work quietly on the task. Don’t forget to try your best.” Far better to anticipate where things may go wrong than to react after the fact. Try reminding your kids of routines and offering preemptive encouragement before trouble arises. “Don’t forget to tidy your room before coming down for breakfast.” “Remember, we don’t run in Grandma’s house.”

When you see your child about to go down a slippery slope, offer the rope to pull them back up. Remind them if a change in behaviour is expected as an activity changes—for example, when the giggly crew in the backseat is about to accompany you into a store, give them time to calm down first.

If you were to listen in on a classroom at any given time, you would often hear teachers helping kids see when they are getting close to the line. “Jack, are you focused on your own work? Sarah, do you need some help starting your test? Abdullah, I’d like you to move over here, away from Aidan, where you will focus better.” A small intervention can go a long way to prevent future upset.

Be Funny

It’s ok to have a bit of fun. Discipline doesn’t always have to be so serious. Sometimes a little laughter is all it takes to get your point across. I have a group of grade eight boys who spend a lot of time in my classroom. This group never really gets out of control, but they often walk rather closely to the line of “disallowed” behaviour. They can be rowdy, unfocussed, and require a lot of the aforementioned redirection to get through a task. And, like many boys, they like to express their friendship by making fun of each other.

For some reason, they respond well when I say something like this: “Jeff, when you tease Karl you may cause an ouchie in his feelings. Then we will have to sit down together and make a plan to Band-Aid that ouchie. Please use your kind words.” Now, I have built enough rapport with these guys that they know I’m not actually condescending them. This kind of statement usually results in a smile from these kids while having an added bonus of stopping the unwanted behaviour.

The point is, you can lighten up, have a giggle and still remind kids to stick to the rules.

Be Kind

Never be punitive or belittle kids. Discipline needs to come from a place of caring. Make sure kids know that even if you don’t approve of their choice or of their behaviour, you always approve of them. It’s not a good idea to tell children that they are naughty or bad—far better to explain that they are awesome, but their choice was not so awesome. Be clear about how a choice or behaviour was wrong and plan for it to be different next time. And during that conversation, it’s a great time to reassure your child that you still love them and they light up your life, even if they are serving a night off technology for writing a rude word on their locker door.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is build up your child’s self-esteem, while still penalizing their behaviour. Be empathetic. Understand your kids have rough days and hurt feelings that contribute to their behaviour. This doesn't mean you excuse unacceptable behaviour, but it is a good idea to talk about what may lead a child to those choices. Sometimes naming a feeling for a child does wonders to calm their behaviour.

Remember, even when it comes to discipline, it’s all about love! Enjoy the journey.

As a parent, is it ever okay to discipline someone else's child?

When it comes to punishment, this mom's stroke of ingenuity has her using her children's misbehaviour to her advantage.


Is Your Child Studying The Wrong Way?

Why Cramming Gets a Failing Mark

Is Your Child Studying The Wrong Way?

Sometimes research comes along that confirms what teachers and parents have known for years. Recently money, time and effort have been poured into proving what you may have suspected since the time you prepared for your own high school exams: rereading material over and over is NOT an effective means of studying.

When faced with a test, many students sit down to try and “memorize” facts. They stare at a text book page, until the words blur and their mind wanders, hoping that the information will stick. Using that method some of the material may stay in memory for a very short time, but it is doubtful the information will remain there until finals.

So, in a culture where we believe “practice makes perfect”, what kind of studying does yield positive results. Here’s some advice you can impart to your kids as they prepare for tests and exams.

Don’t Waste Time on Someone Else's Words

Everyone’s brain is unique and we all have our own way of comprehending language. When a student listens to the teacher speaking, their brain automatically starts converting things into a more familiar dialect. Instead of staring at a glossary or a text book page to learn key words, students should be encouraged to put definitions into their own words. After each section or chapter they review, students should also summarize their reading in a language they can relate too. 

This doesn’t have to mean loads of writing – oral answers have proven to be just as successful, however it seems to be better for kids to actually speak their responses aloud, rather than compose them in their head. Perhaps it is too easy for the mind to become distracted if a student is just thinking, rather than speaking or writing.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

If you can convince your procrastinating teen of this one, then you deserve today’s SUPERSTAR PARENT award. Research shows that it is better to review the material frequently, in small chunks, allowing the brain some time to recharge and forget some of the information between sessions. This allows time for the learning to consolidate in your child’s busy mind. Revisiting familiar material also gives the mind practice in retrieving information out of context, as they will have to do during test time. 

The optimal way to study is early and often, not one or two marathon sessions right before the final exam. Basically, it is best to review everyday – however, who has time for that in our busy world? I say, encourage your kids to review material as early and often as possible – while still maintaining some balance in their life.

Make an Emotional Attachment

One purpose of having human emotions is to tell our brain's to flag something. A strong emotion instructs our mind to pay close attention and remember something. This is why you can more accurately recall situation in which you were extremely happy (such as the birth of your child) or extremely frightened (such as a dangerous accident), as opposed to a non-emotional experience (such as what you had for dinner three days ago). Emotions are like the mind’s highlighters, reminding us to revisit that information later.

If a student is struggling to remember something they should try to relate the material to a personal experience. This will create an emotional link to the information and greatly improve their ability to recall it.

Test, Test and Retest

Students should create practice tests for themselves, anticipating the kinds of questions a teacher might ask. Then, they should use their study notes and texts to find the answers to those questions. Again, students should engage in this practice early and often. Having kids frequently test themselves on the material, either orally or by writing things down, may be more work, but it is one of the best ways to prepare.

Many text books offer review questions at the end of chapters and some teachers provide practice tests. These are great places to start; however, having students make up their own test questions is even better, as kids interact with the material on more than one level. Any effective study practice hinges on students connecting and manipulating the information, rather than just reading it.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Elbow Grease

If studying is not hard work, then they’re not doing it right. Innate ability might help your kids sail through the younger grades without much effort, but middle school and high school should require hard work to earn top marks. A highly developed and persistent study routine will yield great results and set up excellent habits for future academic endeavors (college, university and other learning opportunities). 

Sure, it takes self-discipline to review material regularly, but the silver lining is an improvement in grades, an improvement in confidence and more future opportunities for success. Also (and maybe you can help convince your reluctant studier with this one) it shouldn’t take your student any more time to study the night before the test than it does on any other school night. While all their peers with poorer study skills are staring blankly into the pages of their text book the night before the test, your student can be out enjoying the warm weather, confident that they know the material. Remember what the tortoise taught you, slow and steady wins the race.


As always, enjoy the journey!


For more smart strategies to help with homework see YMC's A+ Guide to End Homework Frustration. To better understand how your student is being assessed in school, see Erin Chawla's post on Understanding the Rubric.

image via woodleywonderworks, flickr cc


How Laughter and Fun Encourages Learning

Connecting the love of learning and laughter while bonding with your child

How Laughter and Fun Encourages Learning

How Laughter and Fun Encourages Learning

When it comes to education, a little laughter goes a long way.

Obviously, amusement doesn’t cause learning, but it sure has a positive impact on a child’s ability to retain information. Countless studies have demonstrated how kids learn through play. In fact, play-based learning is one of the main concepts driving the most recent kindergarten curriculum in Ontario. Experts in the field of education have come to understand something that parents and kids have known for a very long time—that play and fun lead to discovery and understanding.

Anyone who has spent any time teaching kids can tell you that students learn better when they are feeling good. Anxiety, sadness and boredom tend to monopolize a good portion of the mind’s time and energy, leaving little space for new information to find its way in.

However, happiness, engagement, and contentment leave the brain’s door wide open for fresh ideas to jump through.

A fun, relaxed atmosphere produces better results than an atmosphere that creates anxiety or boredom for the learners. And adding enjoyment into the lesson strengthens the bond between teacher and student. So, when I can link a lesson to a little fun, present information in the form of a game, or add some humour into my teaching, I do.

Laughter and Learning

These days, I have the great pleasure of seeing everything I know about learning reflected in my daughter as she tries to master a new skill. At close to fifteen months, her brain is like a little sponge, soaking up every bit of information she can and practicing her skills over and over until she masters them. I’m beginning to think every teacher-training course should have a section on observing toddlers—there are few better examples of the great learning process.

And I see what I know about laughter and learning echoed in my daughter's play. When something strikes baby girl as funny, she grasps it right away and places it in her long-term memory. For example, some words we have had to repeat countless times before she attempts to say them, but amid the giggles, she grasped our word for flatulence right away. Her eyes shine with delight and she clearly enunciates “toot” every time there’s a rumble from her diapered end. I guess that means she inherited her sense of humour from her father.

Giggles and Growth

Because we are a family that enjoys bonding over a good chuckle, when Fisher-Price sent us one of their new Laugh & Learn products, we could hardly wait to open it. 

Even while it was still in the package, baby girl was intrigued by the colours and inviting design of Laugh & Learn Puppy’s Activity Home. Rookie mom mistake #426, I let her see the package before starting our bedtime routine. This meant that I could only lure her away from the singing toy with my own lively song and dance and promises of the world’s greatest bubble bath.


In the morning, my daughter spied the new toy and gleefully squealed with delight. Already an avid user of the Laugh & Learn apps, as well as a few other toys from this product line, my daughter was delighted to be reunited with her familiar friends, Puppy, Froggy, and Monkey. Together we enjoyed exploring the many features of the house.


Puppy’s Activity Home includes three learning modes, learning, music, and imagination. Music is definitely a key feature of enjoyment-based learning, and it is an excellent tool for transferring information into long-term memory. If you’ve ever sung along to a song that you haven’t heard in a decade, and were surprised as the lyrics fall out of your mouth, you’ve enjoyed this phenomenon at work.

And in addition to the learning science behind it all — music makes my girl do the wiggle dance, which just fosters joy all around.

Play-Based discovery works with any age group

For my curious, inventive little toddler, learning is all about discovery and play. Watching her is a great reminder to bring this attitude into my teaching. Students of any age can benefit from play-based discovery. It’s the reason your 13-year old can tell you everything there is to know about her favourite computer game, but probably can’t tell you what she learned in math class yesterday. It’s also the reason your high-schooler can remember the discovery he made during last year’s science lab better than any facts from today’s history lecture. 

Fisher-Price has aimed their Laugh & Learn product line at toddlers aged 6–36 months, but the lesson reaches far beyond that range. Whatever the age of the students, we should all remember to add a little laughter and playfulness into all our learning.

After all, shouldn’t my students get to enjoy the journey too?

Who said learning can’t be fun? Everyday play helps babies explore and discover the world around them and engaging toys can be a part of that experience.

It may look like child’s play but the Laugh & Learn Puppy’s Activity Home, Puppy’s Learning Car, and the Love To Play Puppy will help your baby learn through laughter.

To discover more about the power of play and to encourage your baby’s natural sense of wonder, visit Fisher-Price® Laugh and Learn. You can also find Fisher-Price® Laugh & Learn toys at Walmart and Toys “R” Us.