"The disruptive kids are getting younger and younger. Last year, we delt with
kindergartners totally out of control, kicking yelling, screaming, breaking
furniture. What do you do?"
In the Spokesman Review, on the front page, in an article by Janette White,
experts figuratively wring their hands about the increasing problems of today's
disruptive youth. In justifying the massive tax expenses of a new special needs
classroom, an educator states:
"They can blow up at the tutor, they can overturn furniture, they can run out.
You can understand how that would go over at a library."
"The younger disruptive students have no regard for adults. If you're in the
way, you're going to get hit. It's pretty scary."
The article explains that the students will have access to more complete curriculum
at the new center and teachers will help students with anger management, manners
and social skills. In thirty years of psychiatric consultation, I have found
it is not only the kids who need "anger management" - whatever that politically
correct term means - but the frustrated and unhappy adults who, with their hands
tied on discipline options, are surrounded by out of control little youth.
The educational system responds the only way it legally can. And its response is very expensive:
Two sound-proof "time-out" rooms have been constructed for kids who need to
be separated from the rest of the children. Teachers will monitor the students
through closed windows. There will be$60,000 in remodeling costs. Teachers salaries
will ad $74,000. Two aides, one trained in restraint techniques, will be added
to the classrooms and numerous part time tutors will be paid $12.63 an hour.
And, of course, the article notes that no one knows how many years these children
will need to be in the classroom. And, before this classroom is first opened
for business, "the administrators are already talking about adding another".
Paraphrasing a senator, one-hundred thousand dollars here and one thousand dollars
there per school - - and the first thing you know, you are talking about real
money! And this is money that is not going into the arts or gifted programs
for the responsible youth. Obviously, they are benefitted by having fewer out-of-control
kids in the immediate classroom neighborhood.
It is sad to me, a child of the '40's, to see competent and good educators
wringing their ,hands, admitting to being scared of primary grade children and
publically wondering what to do . What power these little kids have! Sadly,
the problem is not incompetent educators. That would be relatively easy to fix.
But the problem is a castrated and impotent public education system that is
denied effective discipline options. And the ineffective and costly system itself
is merely a reflection of the present unhealthy American child- raising culture.
In the child psychology professional world lip service is paid to the importance
of developmental lines and the importance of parents providing children with
the right input at the right time. Indeed, the importance of "proper discipline"
is stressed by most professionals. But try pinning them down on what that means
when handling an uncontrollable child and there is a lot of waffling. How do
you effectively handle a two year old who is out of control? How do you effectively
respond to a four year old who is out of control? How about an out-of-control
ten year old? The answer, of course, often does depend on the reason the child
is acting out of control. And when various experts can't agree, they all have
an easy out. They will all shrug and unarguably but unhelpfully respond, "It
all depends on the child."
But try pinning them down: "Yeah, but in the case of the many children who
tell adult authority figures to "get lost" or out right threaten them - in the
case of most of these children, most of the time - how do you handle them?"
And the answer in this day a age will be similar to that of the educators above:
Special therapy, and special classrooms with special teachers, supervising special
aides who provide specialized care. In short, the kids need more understanding,
lots tighter structure, and a lot more money to be "cared for" effectively.
"Sweet Suzy" Nissler-Benson, our foster child, came to us at six years of age.
She was somewhat out of control, and quickly became a loving and thoughtful
little girl who grew to graduate with honors from teacher's school in Fort Collins
Colorado. Shortly after graduation, she worked in a preschool for disruptive
students. And suddenly, much to the school's loss and the consternation of the
faculty that liked her, she quit. I was curious to find out why such a friendly,
competent and caring young woman would resign, and over dinner, she explained:
"Foster, those kids were completely out of control. And all we were legally
allowed to do was to talk to them, redirect them or restrain them 'till they
are "ready to behave". That puts them in complete control of the class. And
I know those things won't work. I was a foster kid! I'm not going to be part
of such an ineffective go-nowhere system and I told 'em, "I'm outta here".
I remember Kirk, an eight year-old third grader that I met in the seventies.
And Kirk's story is a story of the seventies. For this is a story about educational
freedom and the power of individual public schools to decide on their own discipline
procedures and even, heaven forbid, decide for themselves on the curriculum
materials best suited to their own student body.
In the seventies Americans could buy and drink fresh pressed apple juice, build
a bathroom shower with two separate knobs for hot and cold if they so desired,
push snow off a deck without being impeded by the lower deck railing, and even
have a fresh egg in their Orange Julius! In those days there were merry-go-rounds
and high slides in parks, and America government did not so over-protect of
And as now, the freedom in the schools reflected the larger culture, and in
those days, all Americans had much more freedom - in and out of schools - than
they have today.
Kirk was as big a problem in the seventies as the behaviorally disturbed children
of the nineties described in the beginning of this article.
When I met Kirk in a school consultation room, he had previously been kicked
out of four other elementary schools. They could not handle his disruptive behavior.
He was now about to be kicked out of the fifth and put into a specialized home
schooling routine. With his teacher, principle, school psychologist and mother
I tried to help decide on an appropriate response for Kirk.
Kirk would not stay in the school isolation spot unless a teacher held the
door closed and after he was able to control that, his behavior was, of course,
worse. When isolation was attempted he would run out into the hall and run up
and down banging on lockers shouting profanity. After listening to the behavior
modification techniques and isolation attempts that they had tried, coupled
with adequate attempts at isolation other consequences, I could not see an alternative
that they had not adequately tried save one.
Softly, under my voice, so I almost could deny saying it if things went really
wrong and people were too upset, I asked, "Has anyone tried paddling this kid?"
I was safe in asking such a question in the seventies. But even then it was
becoming a politically incorrect idea.
For a moment, you could hear a pin drop. Then there was a squall of individual
reactions. The school psychologist looked as if she had just been told a swamp
alligator had eaten her mother! I thought she might swoon and pass out on the
spot! The teacher looked definitely interested, and the principal arched one
eye thoughtfully. Suddenly mom raised her hands to her face and begin crying.
I thought, "Oh, oh, now I've done it!" Then suddenly sobbing from behind her
hands, the mom said, "Oh, thank you, thank you!!!" I told the other four schools
that if they would just try paddling Kirk once, he'd shape right up and be a
great kid, but they accused me of being an abusive mother for saying that!!
After some discussion we brought Kirk in and we discussed how poorly his "memory
gland" worked and it had a hard time reminding him to stay in the "think it
over spot." That it was understandably hard sometimes to remember that. So the
memory gland needed stimulation. And, it turned out that the memory gland could
be stimulated by the large cord that ran up the spine. Then, of course, the
question becomes what stimulates the long cord? It turned out that the cord
could be stimulated by stimulating the little nerve fibers on a persons butt.
When those nerve fibers are stimulated, they sap a message to the cord, that
zings a message up to the memory gland, locking in the thought that one should
stay where one is put. It was almost magic! We asked Kirk whether he thought
he needed light or heavy stimulation and he assured us that light stimulation
was sufficient. And after Kirk left it was decided that the principal would
give Kirk one really hard swat with a paddle witnessed by the assistant principle.
Within two weeks I received a call from the principal saying he wanted to "see
me right away and go over responses from Kirk." I knew from his urgency that
things had not gone well. And I was concerned. As I walked into the office,
who should meet me but Kirk. With a big smile, and, with great pride, he handed
me a picture that he had drawn. The picture was of a meadow with a smiling sun
shining on flowers, and birds singing in a tree. This was an entirely unKirk-like
picture. He had always drawn monsters, then scribbled over them in black, and
then threw the whole picture away. What a change! Thinking the picture was being
given to me, I thanked him for it, but he frowned and said, "This isn't for
you! It's for my principal." I was a little surprised and asked, "Isn't he the
one who has paddled you?" And Kirk answered again with pride, "Yeah, but only
when I really need it, and after my memory gland is thinking clearer, he always
gives me a big hug!"
When I questioned the principal about why he wanted to see me so urgently,
he laughed and said, he was simply excited about the remarkable changes in Kirk
and wanted me to see them right away. He only had to paddle Kirk twice and the
rest of Kirk's school years were normally uneventful.
So if corporal punishment can at times be so effective, why does it have such
a bad rap?
There are seven thoughtful and correct reasons why corporal punishment has
a negative rap:
Children identify with adults of power and if power is used incorrectly
in attempts to control, the children grow up out of control.
The experts in child psychology appear to be in the forefront of the effort
to ban all spanking. This is understandable for all the corporal punishment
most professionals see is ineffective carried out by ineffective parents. And
parents that do effectively use corporal punishment, in today's world would
never fess up. The subject is too politically incorrect and too easily misunderstood.
To suggest that a kid might need a pop on the rear makes one a "certified child
beater" in today's world.
Social Workers make home visits and see spanking being used ineffectively.
Psychologists and psychiatrists see families with children in their practices
who are out of control and most if not all the parents have used spanking. As
all professionals see is the results of the dysfunctional use of corporal punishment
it is no wonder they want to force everyone to abandon it entirely.
Over the years I have met many young child care workers afraid to have children
after working with disturbed children in residential treatment centers. They
think that all kids are like the dysfunctional youth they work with.
There is a good metaphor to aid in the understanding of professional distrust
around corporal punishment. The example would be the response of a medical pathologist
who saw or knew only of the negative results of a particular surgery, and had
no idea that the surgery could be carried out beneficially. Surgery has much
in common with corporal punishment:
Why might corporal punishment be effective?
Carried out effectively, corporal punishment is a revisiting to issues that
many children have developmentally missed. A look at infancy and early toddlerhood
is required for an understanding of the foundations of discipline for they bare
on parental physical responses , the possible use of corporal punishment and
responses that could be helpful to older out-of-control disrespectful anti-authoritarian
The developmental needs of infants and toddlers are well known and any bookstore
has selves of books on development. However, few books link later behavior to
the loss of those developmental needs and give a clear and concise information
on what how society might best fulfill and repair those children who have lost
important skills secondary to poor parenting, poor modeling, and ineffective
responses to their needs. (Can This Child be Saved? Solutions for Adoptive and
Foster Parents - a new book I have just co-authored with Cathy Helding is one
of the few).
Civilization rests precariously on how infants and toddlers are treated
in the first year of life. In Africa and on other continents where
the majority of the civilization's normal infancies and toddlerhoods
have been destroyed, the civilization itself is lost. In the hundred
year's war between France and England, a good percentage of the fathers
were lost. But the civilization was not threatened as mom's were basically
home loving and disciplining their children.
It is different today. In countries where hunger, riot, and ethnic cleansing
makes care of infants and very young children difficult or impossible, the civilization
itself is threatened. Such little children in America are yet few enough that
they are only threatening to principals, teachers and care givers. As these
children who know nothing about loving relationships grow to adolescence and
reproduce many similar children in a geometrically increasing fashion, (as has
already happened) a critical mass is reached where, the society is threatened.
In America such little angry children only wish they could kill authorities.
In other countries they are have guns. CNN fills our living rooms with pictures
of eight to 11 year-old "soldiers".
For during the first year, the developing human learns:
I have written about this issue in more detail elsewhere and will not develop
it here except to say that all senseless violence is based on the loss of these
three essentials. And all serial killers that I have studied had disturbed infancies
and early toddlerhood. When infancy has been destroyed children:
Discipline of children starts in the second half of the first year with parents
requests, "Don't touch" and "no". Interpersonal relationships and basic respect
is built on how the mother handles the temper tantrums of the seventh and eighth
For reasons I will not go into here, most mothers naturally handle tiny infants
with "good enough" parenting. They are able to feed, cuddle, and change their
infant. It is only when the child develops his own curiosity about the world,
wants to explore it, and starts to develop a mind and intentions of his own
that inadequate undisciplined mothers themselves start to lose the discipline
and respect of their children.
It is on the discipline issues in the second half of the first
year and the first half of the second year that most dysfunctional
parents begin to have real trouble. They simply have no concept
of how to effectively handle the terrible twos and troublesome threes.
During this time when discipline falters, children often first become
little monsters that only their mothers "would take of the shelf".
And the mothers themselves soon grow weary. The children grow to be
the antiauthoritarian discipline problems that stalk the primary grades
in America, and join the army and shoot at the population in other
Now we start coming to the crux of understanding out-of-control children.
During the second year of life children learn have down pat, "Basic German
Shepherd," the foundation upon which all discipline is based. Basic German Shepherd
is the correct response to "Come, Sit, No, Go, Stay". Two, three and four year
old children must quickly comply with, "John, honey, will go sit in your room
please." When three and four year old children respond (and it doesn't even
have to be respectfully!) to "come, sit, no, go, and stay" parents are basically
"home free" in the child's adolescence unless divorce, death, illness or markedly
poor parenting practices occur in the intervening years. All children who have
had a good first two years are easily reachable in therapy, regardless of their
symptoms and behaviors.
Children who have adequate parenting learn the following during the second
year of life:
Child development experts talk about the second year of life as the time of
life that individuals learn "autonomy and independence". This is certainly true,
but what experts sometimes neglect to say is that response to authority is the
other side of the same coin. One can't have proper autonomy without leaning
proper response to authority. Every armed service teaches, "you can't give orders
until you first learn to take orders." As children respond properly to parental
structure and limits, parents give progressively more independence and freedom.
When the child comes when called, he can play on the lawn. When the child learns
not to run in the street, the child can play further from the immediate presence
of the parent, etc.
How do parents show infants and toddlers they have the power?
Early on, it is physical responses:
Most effective parents seldom use physical responses to children. And almost
never after four years of age. It is simply not necessary. And some children,
by dint of either temperament simply never have to responded to physically.
In my experience, those children who have never needed any physical reminders
to shape up are little girls.
However, it has been my experience that most loving and responsive children
have been occasionally and rarely popped on the rear, usually for direct disobedience
involving movement, placement of body, or direct disrespect. I remember when
I first learned this:
Years ago, as a young resident in child psychiatric training, I felt somewhat
guilty as I had very infrequently given my two small children a pop on the rear,
and one of our respected faculty members was in the forefront of then nascent
movement to ban all corporal punishment for children. One night he invited the
residency training group to his home for dinner, and during the evening, his
children were acting out. He looked at his little boy and said firmly and matter-of-factly,
"Son, you are cruisin' for a bruisin'" And shortly thereafter he gave the kid
a pop on the rear. I was shocked. "I thought you didn't agree with corporal
responses?" And he said, laughingly but truthfully responded, "Well, not for
And I thought, "what a hypocrite!"
Since then I have come to realize that great parents seldom use corporal punishment.
But their children know that it is available. That corporal punishment is an
option. This is demonstrated when one has the following conversation with little
"Does your mommy and daddy spank you?"
"Hardly ever" or some children will say, "No, they don't spank me."
"What would your mother do if you kicked her?"
(Surprised) "Kick her!?"
"Probably spank me"
The validity of this conversation can be checked by all readers when
in the vicinity of a three to five year old child.
I have come to realize that the use of the atomic bomb is a good
metaphor for use of corporal punishment. From 1950 to 1995, for the
first time in human history major powers of nearly equal strength
with differing world views did not go to war for forty five years.
It would be nice to think this unique era of peace between the major
nations was because mankind was entering the age of Aquarius. But
most don't think so. It was the atomic bomb, pure and simple. Those
countries that didn't have the bomb continued fighting. Those that
did made kept the peace. Note that it was not because the bomb
was used frequently that kept the peace! Atomic bombs were used
only once. It was simply the knowledge that the bomb could
be used that kept nations respectful of the other.
Likewise, in one room school houses of old, when the switch was above
the door, it was clear that it could be used. And in most
cases, never had to be!
Out of control children must come to respect authority figures, they
must relive or redo the normal parent/child interaction that
takes place during the second half of the first year and the first
half of the second year of life.
For the children to come to respect and love an authority figure, the following
normal sequence of events must take place:
The parent says "no"
The child tests the "no"
The parent uses power, firmly applied, as necessary to bring about
The child is upset and cries
The parent gives comfort and understands the child's feelings while
remaining firm about prohibiting the action.
(This is the real way of saying, "I love you, but I don't
love that behavior".)
All parent mammals demonstrate power through a physical response
to out of control youngsters.
(Example from Roger Paine re: whales
Example of wolves)
Notice the horse kicks the colt, the mother whale swats her youngster,
and the human mother gives her child a pop in the exactly the same
area. The fleshy area just north of the posterior appendages. This
buttocks area is a unique area. In this area a large amount of flesh
lies over the largest, flattest bone in the human body. Through that
large fleshy mass, not one major nerve, artery or vein runs!
It is covered by little nerve fibrils that are only sensitive to a
slap, not deep pressure.
Did this very sensitive but perfectly safe area for corporal punishment
come about by accident?! Of course not! God is a design expert!
It is not just that parent mammal's willingness to use power in the form of
a physical response that leads mammalian youngsters to respect their elders.
Respect is the recognition of another's reluctance to use their power. Respect
for another takes place when a powerful person never misuses the power. But
for respect to take place, the youngster must know that the other does have
An almost magical psychological process takes place as loving parents
control their children: The child internalizes the parent's control
as self control, and internalizes the parent's love as self
love and, the two together lead the child to have self respect!
Out of control children without self control, without self love,
and with no self respect have experienced:
1) A loving authority figure afraid of showing power (The child is
spoiled and controlling.)
2) An abusive authority figure who has misused power (The child is
angry and controlling.)
3) Pain or abuse in the first year of life (The child is rageful
Thoughts on Discipline for the Educational System:
The educational system, to be effective must be able to provide a developmentally
correct response. The outstanding truth of developmentally correct parenting
of infants and toddlers always involves touch in one form or another; control
of the child's bodily placement and activities coupled with loving attention.
For isolation to be effective, the child must not be able to control
the situation throughout the time of isolation as is now often the
case in our schools. In many schools, teacher's cannot put a child
in locked isolation rooms but instead must hold the door closed
or sit with the child during the time of upheaval. This would
be akin to a mother taking a temper tantruming child in to the bedroom
and then holding it in the crib. As anyone can imagine, the problem
would escalate horribly.
The same problem occurs when the school restrains an older child
pitching a fit. While being restrained the child demands "Let me up
you sucker" or words to that effect. (Usually a lot more
gross - let your imagination run wild here, and you may come close.)
The teacher or aide is often taught to say, "I'll let go of you after
you get control of yourself," or "after you settle down," or "when
you show me you are ready". Obviously all of these statements immediately
put the child in absolute control of the total situation and the child
thinks something like, "Well, I can keep this up 'till lunch time,
and then I'll give it another go this afternoon."
Somehow, professionals and parents have been told to isolate a child
"one minute for every year of age" when the child is disruptive. This
is not nearly adequate, and simply results in the child beating
a path to and from the isolation spot all day.
Therefore, for isolation to be effective:
When isolation can be used effectively, this technique will reach
most children. But it often cannot be effectively used. Using the
parent analogy, the teacher is forced to act like an ineffective parent
who holds the two year old on his or her chair during the temper tantrum,
or somehow must manage to hold the bedroom door closed while the child
kicks at it - all of which give a child the feeling of being in control
of the situation by being out of control internally. Thus, the child
never internalizes self control.
Corporal Punishment and the School
It is almost as ineffective with difficult children to let them know they can never be paddled as it is to frequently paddle them. Of course, paddling the kid all the time makes the situation worse while letting them know they can never be paddled simply insures the situation will never get better.
A few children can most effectively be taught that adults have the power through corporal punishment. This has many advantages:
There are safeguards that make corporal punishment safe:
Corporal Punishment, spanking or paddling is effective only:
Recently there was a PBS special comparing the prisons of China with
those of the west. It showed Chinese prisoners doing calisthenics,
working, studying and singing songs as they marched. Recidivism was
extremely low and prisoners felt good about themselves and the system.
This was contrasted with Western prisons where prisoners were largely
angry and resentful as they spent their hours in front of a TV. In
the western world, recidivism is extremely high. Most come back home
In China, as far as the investigators could tell there was little
coercion used with the vast majority of prisoners. However, all knew
it could be used.
There are destructive misperceptions in our country that when dealing
The use of necessary power for disturbed children is exactly analogous to the
use of power to control countries that are international rogues but when their
behavior improves, are welcomed into the world body of nations.
As long as America's schools are unwilling to show definite and unmistakable power coupled with respect and love in controlling disruptive students many millions of dollars will be spent on special education classrooms, filled with special education aides, who work with children who, in spite of their "best efforts" will end up in jail as young adults.