Discipline and Fairness

Maintaining order in your classroom or your home is critical. As you do so, though, never forget this basic truth about discipline: Children do not mind a tough teacher (or parent) but they despise an unfair one.

Being unfair can run the gamut from imposing a harsh punishment one day and a lenient one the next, or not giving a reward for something even though the same behavior earned a reward last week. Once children view you as unfair, you’ve lost them.

This is why when it comes to discipline situations, imposed punishments simply don’t work. There’s no way to be consistent or fair with such measures. In fact, imposing the same consequence on all students/children is the least fair approach. A more fair way is to elicit a consequence that will help the child become more responsible.

If you’re unsure about this approach, try this: Ask your students or children if they would prefer the exact same consequence (punishment) be applied to everyone or whether they would rather be treated as individuals. Children will quickly indicate that they would rather be treated as individuals. Young people implicitly know that meting out the same consequence to everyone seems at first to be consistent, but they soon realize that treating everyone as if they were exactly alike is not fair. In other words—and especially considering our educational objectives for young people—consistency of procedure is the fairest approach to be consistent.

In summary, the most effective way to promote responsibility—be it regarding inappropriate behavior, reducing apathy toward learning, or even with home assignments—is to elicit a consequence or elicit a procedure to help the student, rather than impose a consequence (punishment).