Punishments to Embarrass


My two daughters, aged 7 and 9, attend a school in Sydney, Australia. Since they started there, I have been disturbed by a commonly used practice in the school.

Children are rewarded and punished through the use of a happy versus a sad side of the board. Their names are placed on either side according to their behaviour. Everyone in the class can see the names. I fear for the children whose names are frequently guests of the sad side.

To add to my discomfort, my 9 year old who has just begun 4th grade has a new addition in her classroom to the sad side. It is a “sorry song.” Children whose names appear on the sad side are required to stand up in front of the class at the end of the day and sing this song! This is so very humiliating for those genuinely regretful and fabulously rewarding for those attention seekers amongst the sad side guests!

My 4th grader has also been introduced to a token money system where children are rewarded with “class money” for what is judged by the teacher to be good behaviour. I see no consistency in this judgement and feel it is arbitrary making it even more discouraging.

I wondered if you had any experience with such practices. I struggle to see the positive in these strategies and am concerned especially for the children in my 4th grader’s class. I value your opinion.


Unfortunately, schools around the world are still using antiquated and counterproductive approaches to discipline young people.

Discipline comes from the same Latin root as the word disciple: DISCIPERE—to teach or comprehend.

Children are developmentally incomplete. They require socialization, instruction, and correction to shape egocentric behavior into successful interpersonal skills.

The crux of school discipline turns on how instruction and correction are provided.

The literature on school discipline reflects what the fields of applied behavior analysis and special education have stressed for 40 years: Punishment, especially punishment alone, cannot teach positive behaviors.

The literature on negative consequences has consistently demonstrated a host of serious side-effects in using punishment-based approaches—including escape, counter-aggression, and progressively stiffer consequences.

Finally, insist that the teacher stop using the approach of humiliating your child. Start by asking her if s/he would like the principal of the school to use the same approach on the teacher in front of the other staff members. Young people, just like older people, should be treated with dignity.

Persist in your endeavors. You will be doing right for your children, the teacher, the principal, and the school.