Stress Management for Living, Teaching, & Parenting

Do “enforceable statements” fit with Discipline without Stress?

QUESTION:

I was thinking today about the “enforceable statements” that Love and Logic is big on using.  At first, I was thinking that I might use their statements in my Discipline without Stress teaching but now I’m wondering.  I’d like another opinion on the subject.

In the Love and Logic program, instead of making rules for your students, you only tell them what YOU, the adult will do.  The thinking behind this is that the only person you ever really have control over is yourself.

I can see how some enforceable statements could be used with Discipline without Stress if they fall into the category of procedures. For example, things like :

  • “Ooops, I listen to kids who raise their hands,” or;
  • “I’ll be happy to hand out art supplies as soon as your desk is tidy.”

To me though, the idea gets a little iffy though if the teacher were to say something like “I will take kids who finish their work out to recess.”  I’d say that this example is more like an imposed consequence that has been politely worded.  What do you think?

RESPONSE:

I’m not totally familiar with the Love and Logic program, but I did go online to find this link about their “enforceable statements.  Based on this document alone, I came to a similar conclusion as you; some of the examples of enforceable statements fit in well with the Discipline without Stress approach and others do not.  To me, the ones that fit well are the ones that Dr. Marshall would describe as “contingencies.”

Like the Love and Logic program, Discipline without Stress also teaches that the only person you have control over is yourself.

When faced with an uncooperative student, Dr. Marshall suggests that a teacher could become more effective by developing a habit of using contingencies (rather than the more typical reliance on imposed or logical consequences.)  In a recent blog posting, Dr. Marshall explains what contingencies are and why they are both positive and effective in influencing a young person to choose more responsible behavior.

In analyzing the usefulness of  any one of the “enforceable statements,” it might also be helpful to keep in mind the following foundational teaching habits of the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model which reminds us that effective teachers:

  • Aim to word all they say in positive ways even when the situation might typically be considered negative
  • Provide choices without any sense of coercion.  Coercion often leads to resistence, while less pressure (and reflective questioning led by the teacher) will often lead to cooperative solutions.
  • Ask questions designed to get young people to reflect, rather than the teacher simply telling them what to think.

To me the term “enforceable” is a bit off-putting in the first place.  Although on the one hand the authors explain that as an individual you can only control YOURSELF, their method actually encourages adults to adopt a mindset of ENFORCEMENT.   It seems as if the underlying intent is to encourage adults to word their communications in a way that underhandedly FORCES young people to do as the adult wishes.  It’s as if they don’t like admitting that you can’t control another person, and therefore having no other strategy to deal with the situation, they suggest carefully wording statements that will in effect force students to “cooperate” with the adult.

When following the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model, I also admit to myself that I can’t MAKE anyone do what I want them to do, but at the same time I am encouraged to aspire to INFLUENCE them to do so.  To me, this gives Discipline without Stress a very different feeling.  I don’t like “black and white” mindsets when dealing with people.  I prefer “shades of gray.”  I think I have better results when I approach a discipline situation as one in which I MIGHT have success in influencing another person, but it’s not guaranteed–simply BECAUSE I can’t control other people.

My job is not to be an enforcer. My job is to simply make young people more aware and open-minded about what is happening in a particular situation so that they might decide to make a happier choice!  Then I’ve done my best.  I can then accept that they really do wish to make a choice different from the one I’d hoped they’d make (and so perhaps reap rather unhappy results–but that was their choice.)  Apart from continuing to try and influence them, I can do no more.  Young people make their own choices.

To me, the powerful element of choice feels as if it’s actually missing in many of these enforceable statements because the only choice given is the choice the adult wants.

As well, these statements are all about telling;  the powerful Discipline without Stress element of ASKING (to achieve reflection) is missing.

When these two elements are missing, Discipline without Stress explains that adults run into problems, because children––especially older ones––can easily sense coercion.  This perception of being coerced or pressured is what creates resistance on the part of the child and which is why Discipline without Stress so strongly recommends avoiding coercion, by  in adding in positivitychoice and reflection to communications. Of course, tone of voice and body language play a huge role too.   Some these statements, voiced with kindness might be fine, while the same thing said with a brisk tone of voice might have the opposite effect for which the adult was hoping.

I noticed that many of the enforceable statements emphasize control.  For instance,  “I’ll provide Nintendo when chores are done.”  This statement really points out who has control and who owns the Nintendo.  Discipline without Stress would recommend that you could better gain cooperation by eliminating any hint of coercion and simply using a contingency, “Sure you can play Nintendo when the chores are done.”

Personally, I prefer to less confrontational in my communications with kids. For instance the statement designed to stop a teenager from buying inappropriate clothing seems as if it might actually escalate the problem.  I think a discussion about the parent’s concerns (rather than a single statement) would be more effective in achieving genuine cooperation.  If you used only the enforceable statement, I think you might end up with a switch in focus––to money.

When the parent more or less gives an ultimatum, “I’ll be happy to buy you the clothes I feel are appropriate.”

A teen might respond with:

  • “Okay, then, I’ll use my birthday money from Aunt Mary to buy these clothes” or,
  • “Fine, I’ll get a job and buy whatever I want.”

At that point, the conversation has gone off track.  In fact, the parent has nowhere to go because they themselves have initially focused the problem on the fact that they won’t spend their money on something they don’t like. If this statement had never been used then the discussion might still continue, allowing the parent to gain more influence with the child.  Hopefully the parent could help their child consider an alternate point of view.  This could be accomplished more effectively with some reflective questions as is suggested in the Discipline without Stress approach.

  • “Why do you think I’m concerned about this dress?”
  • “What message might you send when you wear a shirt with this slogan on it?”

Another example of something I wouldn’t use is the type of statement about the paying for the college tuition only if there is a certain letter grade.  I wouldn’t like to put pressure on my own child in this way. I would prefer to influence them to WANT to do well, emphasizing the fact that they were going to college for THEIR OWN GOOD––not mine.  I would hope to convey the expectation that I’d like to see them do well because it would pay off FOR THEM.

Quite possibly, I might not be willing to pay for any further courses if I felt my child weren’t applying themselves but I wouldn’t start out by creating this type of an atmosphere.   In my own first year of university, I received one very low grade, simply because I procrastinated in handing in a major assignment.  And then, even though I completed the assignment, I never actually handed it in.  I was extremely embarassed because I’d never done anything like that in high school.  For me, that situation was a real learning experience, as I vowed to get excellent grades from that point on.  My parents never mentioned the one low grade (I’m assuming that they thought it was a very difficult course!) which made me want to show them that I could do much better in my second year of university.  I think many young adults might be the same.  They do much better in their second and third years of post-secondary schooling and need some time of leeway in their first year as adults.

So, as we both noticed, the best of the “enforceable statements” are those that lead to genuine cooperation without the use of implied coercion or negativity.

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Dr. Marvin Marshall
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 714.220.1882
marv@marvinmarshall.com
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