Discipline and punishment should not be confused. Discipline can be applied when a person knew full well the consequence of his/her behavior choices. For example we have probably all been a party to the “If you…then I” conversation. In this conversation it is clearly laid out what the result of a choice will be. “If you throw away that shirt then I will not replace it” is a perfect example. If the person chooses to throw away the shirt then he will know that there is no new shirt on the horizon. Or if you instruct a youth in your program, “If you refuse to complete your homework, then I will have you complete the homework during art” and he/she doesn’t complete the homework, then it is imperative that you stick with the consequence, the discipline, and the youth completes homework during art. Punishment is something that is imposed after the fact. Do you remember as a youth when someone was unhappy with you and you rolled your eyes or displayed some other form of “bad attitude” and suddenly the consequence had escalated and become more severe? This is an example of punishment. You didn’t realize where the situation was going because you had not understood the consequence prior to the choice you made.
One scenario that often happens in afterschool programs is that an “If you…then I” conversation is clearly had, but when it comes time to deliver the “then I” part of the conversation we back off. We say, “After all, the person is sorry,” or “She really didn’t understand the consequence,” or “I was being too hard to make that the consequence.” When we do not follow through on discipline, we give youth permission to challenge and test us to determine whether or not we really mean what we say this time. This leads to more disruptive behavior choices rather than positive ones.
Discipline needs to be systemic not based on how remorseful a youth can appear or how aggrevated the adult feels. The goal of a discipline plan is to clearly place the onus of responsibility for the behavior choice made on the shoulders of the person who made the choice with complete understanding of the choice that was being made.
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