1 Dec 2010

Study shows strongest evidence yet that spanking kids does more harm than good

TIME - April 12, 2010

Study: Spanking Kids Leads to More Aggressive Behavior

By Alice Park


Disciplining young children is one of the key jobs of any parent — most people would have no trouble agreeing with that. But whether or not that discipline should include spanking or other forms of corporal punishment is a far trickier issue.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking for any reason, citing its lack of long-term effectiveness as a behavior-changing tactic. Instead the AAP supports strategies such as time-outs when children misbehave, which focus on getting kids to reflect on their behavior and the consequences of their actions. Still, as many parents can attest, few responses bring about the immediate interruption of a full-blown tantrum like a swift whack to the bottom.

Now researchers at Tulane University provide the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. The research supports earlier work on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study by Duke University researchers that revealed that infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.

"I'm excited by the idea that there is now some nice hard data that can back up clinicians when they share their caution with parents against using corporal punishment," says Dr. Jayne Singer, clinical director of the child and parent program at Children's Hospital Boston, who was not involved in the study.

Led by Catherine Taylor, the Tulane study was the first to control simultaneously for variables that are most likely to confound the association between spanking and later aggressive behavior. The researchers accounted for factors such as acts of neglect by the mother, violence or aggression between the parents, maternal stress and depression, the mother's use of alcohol and drugs, and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child.

Each of these factors contributed to children's aggressive behavior at age 5, but they could not explain all of the violent tendencies at that age. Further, the positive connection between spanking and aggression remained strong, even after these factors had been accounted for.

"The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began increased by 50%," says Taylor. And because her group also accounted for varying levels of natural aggression in children, the researchers are confident that "it's not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked."

What the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, shows is that outside of the most obvious factors that may influence violent behavior in children, spanking remains a strong predictor. "This study controls for the most common risk factors that people tend to think of as being associated with aggression," says Singer. "This adds more credence, more data and more strength to the argument against using corporal punishment."

Among the mothers who were studied, nearly half (45.6%) reported no spanking in the previous month, 27.9% reported spanking once or twice and 26.5% reported spanking more than twice. Compared with children who were not hit, those who were spanked were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, get frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against others.

The reason for that, says Singer, may be that spanking instills fear rather than understanding. Even if a child were to stop his screaming tantrum when spanked, that doesn't mean he understands why he shouldn't be acting up in the first place. What's more, spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to problems.

For children to understand what and why they have done something wrong, it may take repeated efforts on the parent's part, using time-outs — a strategy that typically involves denying the child any attention, praise or interaction with parents for a specified period of time (that is, the parents ignore the child). These quiet times force children to calm down and learn to think about their emotions, rather than acting out on them blindly.

Spanking may stop a child from misbehaving in the short term, but it becomes less and less effective with repeated use, according to the AAP; it also makes discipline more difficult as the child gets older and outgrows spanking. As the latest study shows, investing the time early on to teach a child why his behavior is wrong may translate to a more self-aware and in-control youngster in the long run.

This article was found at:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1981019,00.html


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13 comments:

  1. Why Spanking Does Not Work

    A new analysis concludes that spanking fails to alter kids' behavior in the long term. What it does instead is amp up their aggression.

    By BONNIE ROCHMAN |TIME | February 6, 2012

    Want your kid to stop whatever dangerous/annoying/forbidden behavior he’s doing right now? Spanking will probably work — for now.

    But be prepared for that same child to be more aggressive toward you and his siblings, his friends and his eventual spouse. Oh, and get ready for some other antisocial behaviors too.

    A new analysis of two decades of research on the long-term effects of physical punishment in children concludes that spanking doesn’t work and can actually wreak havoc on kids’ long-term development, according to an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

    Studying physical punishment is difficult for researchers, who can’t randomly assign children to groups that are hit and those that aren’t. Instead, they follow children over many years, monitor how much they’re spanked, and then take measure of their aggression over time. “We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says Joan Durrant, the article’s lead author and a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba.

    In fact, regardless of the age of the children or the size of the sample, none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.”

    Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.

    Yet, as I wrote last summer in a story about the first real-time study of parents spanking their children, some research has found that up to 90% of parents say they use corporal punishment:

    Despite a battery of disciplinary techniques, including the infamous “time out,” redirection and the increasing emphasis on positive discipline (try substituting “hold the cup carefully” for “don’t spill your juice”), spanking and slapping are still pretty popular.

    Moms and dads who spank do so because they believe it’s effective, and research actually shows that it is — in the short term. A child reaching for a tempting object will stop if he gets swatted. “It does work in the immediate moment, but beyond that, in most cases, it’s very ineffective,” says George Holden, the study’s author and a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. “The most common long-term consequence is that children learn to use aggression.”

    Case in point: one mother in the study hit her toddler after the toddler either hit or kicked the mother, admonishing, “This is to help you remember not to hit your mother.”

    “The irony is just amazing,” says Holden.

    continued in next comment...

    http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/06/why-spanking-doesnt-work

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  2. continued from previous comment:


    In some countries, spanking is not a choice. Durrant is currently living in Sweden, where she’s researching child-and-family policies and the evolution of that country’s law prohibiting physical discipline of children. In 1979, Sweden was the first country to pass such legislation; now 32 countries — including much of Europe, Costa Rica, Israel, Tunisia and Kenya — have a similar law.

    Neither the U.S. nor Canada has gotten on board. “Whenever I mention the law, there is an assumption that this is government telling me how to raise my child,” says Durrant. “[But in Sweden] they see it as a way to make sure children get the best start possible in life.”

    Parents who spank often do so by default. Many, particularly those who were hit themselves, find that spanking is the only disciplinary tactic in their toolbox. Doctors are in a position to change that by educating parents about the stages of normal child development, recommending alternative ways to discipline and referring interested parents to appropriate resources and parenting classes. In Sweden, for example, new parents are hooked up with support groups and given information about developmental stages.

    As a result, parents understand their children aren’t being intentional obstructionists; it’s just par for the course. “When children see someone resolve conflict with aggression, they are more likely to learn that behavior,” says Durrant. “Two-year-olds are the most aggressive people in the world. They don’t understand the impact of their behavior, and they can’t inhibit themselves. So the more a child sees someone resolving conflict with aggression, the more aggressive they become.”

    A young toddler who upends her cereal bowl on her head probably isn’t being ornery; she’s just curious to see what will happen. Durrant likes to use her son as an example. When he was 3, he dropped his dad’s toothbrush into the toilet. Another parent might have yelled, but Durrant’s academic background helped her realize that he was just experimenting: he dropped objects into water floating in sinks and bathtubs with nary a scolding; why not toilets too? “I explained what goes into toilets and then said, Do you think Daddy is going to want to put that toothbrush in his mouth now?” Message transmitted with no yelling.

    P.S. Durrant’s son never dropped anything verboten into the toilet again.

    http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/06/why-spanking-doesnt-work/?xid=newsletter-weekly
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  3. Childhood abuse may stunt growth of part of brain involved in emotions

    Alok Jha, The Guardian UK February 13, 2012

    Being sexually or emotionally abused as a child can affect the development of a part of the brain that controls memory and the regulation of emotions, a study suggests.

    The results add to the growing body of evidence that childhood maltreatment or abuse raises the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, personality disorders and anxiety well into adulthood.

    Martin Teicher of the department of psychiatry at Harvard University scanned the brains of almost 200 people who had been questioned about any instances of abuse or stress during childhood. He found that the volumes of three important areas of the hippocampus were reduced by up to 6.5% in people exposed to several instances of maltreatment – such as physical or verbal abuse from parents – in their early years.

    "The exquisite vulnerability of the hippocampus to the ravages of stress is one of the key translational neuroscience discoveries of the 20th century," wrote Teicher on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Early clues of the relationship came when scientists found that raising stress hormones for extended periods in rats reduced the number of neurons in the hippocampal areas, a result that has since been replicated in many non-human primates.

    Other work has shown that people with a history of abuse or maltreatment during childhood are twice as likely to have recurrent episodes of depression in adulthood. These individuals are also less likely to respond well to psychological or drug-based treatments.

    In the new study, Teicher's team scanned the brains of 73 men and 120 women aged between 18 and 25. The volunteers filled in a standard questionnaire used by psychiatrists to assess the number of "adverse childhood experiences".

    Overall, 46% of the group reported no exposure to childhood adversity and 16% reported three or more forms of maltreatment, the most common being physical and verbal abuse from parents. Other factors included corporal punishment, sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence.

    The sample did not include people on psychiatric medication or anyone who had been exposed to other stressful events such as near-drownings or car accidents.

    Andrea Danese, a clinical lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, who was not involved in the study, said Teicher's results took scientists a step closer to understanding the complex relationship between childhood maltreatment and brain development. "The large sample size allows for reliable detection of even comparatively small effects of maltreatment on the brain, whereas the recruitment from the general population allows for a less biased interpretation of the study, which builds on previous research often carried out in psychiatric patients."

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    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/feb/13/childhood-abuse-growth-brain-emotions

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  4. continued from previous comment:

    The high-resolution brain imaging analysis allowed Teicher to home in on minute areas of the hippocampus and explore the association between maltreatment and this brain region in finer detail than ever before. "This is important because not all areas in the hippocampus are equally sensitive to the effect of stress mediators, such as cortisol and inflammatory biomarkers," said Danese. "Thus, the authors took advantage of this gradient to indirectly test the mechanisms through which childhood maltreatment could affect the brain."

    One limitation of the study might be that it required the volunteers to recall their childhood experiences, added Danese. "The findings are based on the perceptions and memories that participants have of their childhood rather than on objective events. This may be problematic because some groups of individuals could be more or less prone than others to report experiences of maltreatment. This 'recall' bias has been described in individuals with a history of depression, who may be more likely to report abuse."

    However, Teicher's team was able to test whether a history of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder might explain his observed effects of childhood maltreatment on the hippocampus, and showed that the results were independent of these factors.

    Danese said future studies would need to clarify further the direction of the effect. "Although the authors report that childhood maltreatment is associated with smaller hippocampus regions, it is possible that these abnormalities pre-dated and possibly facilitated maltreatment exposure. Longitudinal and twin studies will help to clarify this issue."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/feb/13/childhood-abuse-growth-brain-emotions

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  5. Spanking may be linked to later mental disorders

    Positive reinforcement techniques preferred for discipline

    CBC News July 2, 2012

    Adults who were subjected to physical punishment such as spanking as children are more likely to experience mental disorders, say Canadian researchers who encourage other forms of discipline.

    Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics includes a study on the proportion of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse as well as personality disorders that may be attributable to physical punishment.

    Physical punishment was defined as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting in the absence of more severe maltreatment of a child through physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect or exposure to intimate partner violence.

    "It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age and we need to be considering that when we're thinking about policy and programs so we can protect children from potentially harmful outcomes," said study author Tracie Afifi, who is in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba.

    Afifi hopes the findings from the study that involved more than 34,000 U.S. adults will make parents think twice about spanking.

    Afifi acknowledged it's not a causal effect and the study design can't prove the link, but she said the statistical association is clear.

    "Parents need to be aware of this relationship," Afifi said.

    A surprising finding was that increases in education and income were associated with higher odds of harsh physical punishment, the researchers said.

    "It is important for pediatricians and other health-care providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders based on the study," Afifi's team concluded.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that physicians strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.

    The authors suggested a more explicit position that spanking, smacking and slapping should not be used with children of any age.

    Spanking is outlawed more than 30 countries. It is legal for parents to use physical punishment on their children in Canada and the U.S.

    "Everybody's tempted when kids are bad, but there are other ways of teaching your kids the right behaviour," said mother Nikki Quinn of Halifax.

    Afifi recommends children be disciplined with positive reinforcement techniques, which have been reviewed and supported in medical literature.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/06/29/spanking-mental-health-drug-abuse.html

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  6. Spanking: Parenthood's Dirty Little (and Common) Secret

    by Claire McCarthy, M.D., Huffington Post July 2, 2012

    This week a study was released saying when children are disciplined using harsh physical punishment like spanking, they are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health problems -- even if they aren't otherwise abused or maltreated. This is scary, because I just recently read an article in the Boston Globe that said that 70 percent of Americans think that spanking is sometimes necessary -- and 90 percent of parents of toddlers spank them.

    Ninety percent?

    Clearly, as the article pointed out, this is happening behind closed doors. If you even talk about spanking your kid, let alone do it in public, there's a reasonable chance that social services will be knocking on your door.

    Although I wouldn't have guessed 90 percent, I certainly know that parents spank their kids. As a pediatrician, it's part of my job to talk with families about discipline -- and in those discussions, spanking comes up relatively frequently. And when those investigators go knocking at my patients' doors, as part of their investigation they call me. So I've had lots of conversations with families about spanking.

    What has been very clear to me is that the vast majority of parents who spank do it in an effort to do the right thing. They aren't out to hurt their kids; they are good parents. The Globe article quoted Dr. Murray Straus, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who studies the effects of corporal punishment on kids, as saying that people think that spanking will work when nothing else does. From what I've heard from parents over the years, this rings true to me.

    Parents see spanking as a way to make their children understand that they are really serious about something. My mother spanked me as a child -- but she reserved it for two circumstances: when I did something dangerous (like running out into the street) or when I told a lie. These were the things she most didn't want me to do, and she saw spanking as the way to get that message across.

    But research shows that actually, spanking isn't more effective than any other form of discipline -- and it can end up having effects that parents really don't want. It's not just mental health problems like the current study and other research show. Spankees are also more likely to have trouble controlling their temper -- not surprising, given that so often parents do it in moments of frustration or anger or both. It's not exactly setting the best example for temper control. They may even have a lower IQ.

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  7. continued from previous comment:

    The most common "side effect" of spanking, though, is that spankees are more likely to hit other children. This makes sense to me, and is something I talk about with parents a lot. When you spank a child you are teaching them that hitting is okay -- especially that bigger people can hit smaller people. Is that a lesson you really want them to learn?

    Now, not every kid who is spanked turns into a depressed, angry high-school dropout who beats people up. There are plenty of kids who turn out just fine. But if it's not more effective, and there are other ways to discipline your child, why take the risk?

    I don't spank my kids. But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it in those moments when I have either been pushed to the absolute limit of my anger or frustration -- or when one of my children has done something that has scared the bejesus out of me and what I wanted more than anything was to be sure that they never, ever did it again.

    But I don't do it. My memories of being spanked are filled with humiliation and pain, and those aren't memories that I want my children to have.

    Until I read the Boston Globe article, I didn't know that many countries -- like Sweden, Germany, Spain and Venezuela -- have banned spanking. Attempts to do anything similar even on a local level here in the U.S. have fallen flat pretty quickly.

    Although I understand why spanking is parenthood's dirty little secret (nobody wants social services at the door), I wish we could find a way to talk more openly about it. If we don't talk about it, we don't get the chance to help people understand why it can be harmful -- and help them learn about other ways of discipline. If we don't talk about it, we miss a chance to reach out to stressed parents and give them support. Parenthood is really hard work -- we do better at it when we have help.

    We all want our kids to be safe, well-behaved and to learn right from wrong. I think we can do that without spanking -- especially if we work together. Only if we work together.

    To see the links embedded in this article go to:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-mccarthy-md/spanking_b_1608747.html

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  8. What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong

    Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse. But a new approach really works.

    By Katherine Reynolds Lewis | Mother Jones, July/August 2015 Issue

    LEIGH ROBINSON WAS out for a lunchtime walk one brisk day during the spring of 2013 when a call came from the principal at her school. Will, a third-grader with a history of acting up in class, was flipping out on the playground. He'd taken off his belt and was flailing it around and grunting. The recess staff was worried he might hurt someone. Robinson, who was Will's educational aide, raced back to the schoolyard.

    Will was "that kid." Every school has a few of them: that kid who's always getting into trouble, if not causing it. That kid who can't stay in his seat and has angry outbursts and can make a teacher's life hell. That kid the other kids blame for a recess tussle. Will knew he was that kid too. Ever since first grade, he'd been coming to school anxious, defensive, and braced for the next confrontation with a classmate or teacher.

    The expression "school-to-prison pipeline" was coined to describe how America's public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today's teachers are trained to be sensitive to "social-emotional development" and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

    How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner's mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished. (Pavlov figured it out first, with dogs.) During the 2011-12 school year, the US Department of Education counted 130,000 expulsions and roughly 7 million suspensions among 49 million K-12 students—one for every seven kids. The most recent estimates suggest there are also a quarter-million instances of corporal punishment in US schools every year.

    But consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children's behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

    University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students' behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University's Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children's motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

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  9. In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

    Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don't want to behave, when in many cases they simply can't?

    That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it's actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber's sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene's disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Childand Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

    His model was honed in children's psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. "We know if we keep doing what isn't working for those kids, we lose them," Greene told me. "Eventually there's this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They've habituated to punishment."

    Under Greene's philosophy, you'd no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You'd talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

    "This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency," says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

    If Greene's approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn't yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

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  10. WILL WAS STILL wielding the belt when Leigh Robinson arrived, winded, at theCentral School playground. A tall, lean woman who keeps her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, she conveys a sense of unhurried comfort. Central, which goes from pre-kindergarten through third grade, is one of a few hundred schools around the country giving Greene's approach a test run—in this case with help from a $10,000 state anti-delinquency grant.

    Will, who started first grade the year Central began implementing Greene's program (known as Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, or CPS), was an active kid, bright and articulate, who loved to play outside. But he also struggled, far more than the typical six-year-old, to stay in his seat—or in the room. When he couldn't find words for what was bothering him, he might swing his hands at classmates or resort to grunting and moaning and rolling on the floor. A psychologist diagnosed him with a nonverbal learning disorder, a condition that makes it hard to adapt to new situations, transition between settings, interpret social cues, and orient yourself in space and time. At the beginning of second grade, Central designated Robinson as his aide.

    Out on the playground, she approached the boy reassuringly, like a trained hostage negotiator. "Do whatever you need with the belt," she told him gently. "Just keep it away from people." Slowly, Will began to calm down. They walked over to some woods near the school, and she let him throw rocks into a stream, scream, and yell until, at last, he burst into tears in her arms. Then they talked and came up with a plan. The next time he felt frustrated or overwhelmed, Will would tell another staffer that he needed his helper. If Robinson were off campus, they would get her on the phone for him.

    A few years earlier, staffers at Central might have responded differently, sending Will to the office or docking his recess time. In a more typical school, a kid who seems to be threatening others might be physically restrained, segregated into a special-ed room, or sent home for the day. Children with learning and behavior disabilities are suspended at about twice the rate of their peers and incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of the overall youth population, government data shows. Will, like most of Central's student body, is white, but for black kids with disabilities the suspension rate is 25 percent—more than 1 in 4 African American boys and 1 in 5 African American girls with disabilities will be suspended in a given school year.

    Before Greene's program was put in place, conventional discipline at Central was the norm. During the 2009-10 school year, kids were referred to the principal's office for discipline 146 times, and two were suspended. Two years later, the number of referrals was down to 45, with zero suspensions, all thanks to focusing more on "meeting the child's needs and solving problems instead of controlling behavior," principal Nina D'Aran told me. "That's a big shift."

    The CPS method hinges on training school (or prison or psych clinic) staff to nurture strong relationships—especially with the most disruptive kids—and to give kids a central role in solving their own problems. For instance, a teacher might see a challenging child dawdling on a worksheet and assume he's being defiant, when in fact the kid is just hungry. A snack solves the problem. Before CPS, "we spent a lot of time trying to diagnose children by talking to each other," D'Aran says. "Now we're talking to the child and really believing the child when they say what the problems are."

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  11. The next step is to identify each students challenges —transitioning from recess to class, keeping his hands to himself, sitting with the group—and tackle them one at a time. For example, a child might act out because he felt that too many people were "looking at him in the circle." The solution? "He might come up with the idea of sitting in the back of the room and listening," D'Aran says. The teachers and the student would come up with a plan to slowly get him more involved.

    This all requires a dramatic change in mindset and workflow. Central School diverted building improvement funds to divide one classroom into two spaces. One side was called the "Learning Center"—a quiet spot for kids to take a break, maybe have a snack, and problem solve before going back into the classroom. The other area became a resource room. The school also committed to 20 weeks of teacher training, with an hour of coaching each week from Greene's trainer via Skype.

    Will's breakthrough session happened in first grade, after several failed attempts, when D'Aran, then a guidance counselor, and his teacher sat down with him. He'd been refusing to participate in writing lessons with his classmates. Over 45 minutes, they coaxed Will through the initial moans and "I don't knows" and finally landed on a solution: Will said if he could use lined paper that also had a space to draw a picture, it would be easier to get started writing. Before long, he was tackling writing assignments without a problem.

    GREENE, 57, HAS curly brown hair, glasses, and the habit of speaking in complete paragraphs, as though he's lecturing a psychology class instead of having a conversation. At the annual conference of Lives in the Balance, the nonprofit he founded to promote his method and advocate for behaviorally challenging kids, I watched him address a crowd of around 500 teachers, psychologists, and other professionals. His baby face and tweedy blazer called to mind a high school social-studies teacher, but he worked up a full head of steam as he spoke of millions of kids being medicated and punished for misbehavior.

    The children at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline, Greene says, include not only the 5.2 million with ADHD, the 5 million with a learning disability, and the 2.2 million with anxiety disorders, but also the 16 million who have experienced repeated trauma or abuse, the 1.4 million with depression, the 1.2 million on the autism spectrum, and the 1.2 million who are homeless. "Behaviorally challenging kids are still poorly understood and are still being treated in ways that are adversarial, reactive, punitive, unilateral, ineffective, counterproductive," he told the audience. "Not only are we not helping, we are going about doing things in ways that make things worse. Then what you have to show for it is a whole lot of alienated, hopeless, sometimes aggressive, sometimes violent kids."

    Greene was trained in behavior modification techniques—a.k.a. the Skinner method—as are most people who work with families and children. But in his early clinical work as a Virginia Tech graduate student, he began to question the approach. He'd get parents to use consequences and rewards, but the families kept struggling mightily with the basics—from dressing to chores and bedtimes. To Greene, it felt like he was treating the symptoms while ignoring the disease.

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  12. Around the same time he learned about new brain research by neuroscientists who were looking at brain functions with powerful fMRI machines. They found that the prefrontal cortex of our brains was instrumental in managing what is called executive function—our capacity to control impulses, prioritize tasks, and organize plans. Other research suggested that the prefrontal cortexes of aggressive children actually hadn't developed, or were developing more slowly, so that they simply did not yet have brains capable of helping them regulate their behavior.

    But brains are changeable. Learning and repeated experiences can actually alter the physical structure of the brain, creating new neuronal pathways. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel found that memory may be stored in the synapses of our nervous system. He won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for studying the Aplysia, a very simple sea slug, and discovering that when it "learned" something, like fear, it created new neurons.

    The implications of this new wave of science for teachers are profound: Children can actually reshape their brains when they learn and practice skills. What's more,Dweck and other researchers demonstrated that when students are told this is so, both their motivation and achievement levels leap forward. "It was all sitting there waiting to be woven together," Greene says. He began coaching parents to focus on building up their children's problem-solving skills. It seemed to work.

    By the early 1990s, Greene had earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. He moved to Massachusetts, where he began teaching at Harvard Medical School and directing the cognitive-behavioral psychology program at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also began testing his new approach in children's psychiatric clinics that had previously used Skinneresque methods. In 2001, Cambridge Health Alliance, a Boston-area hospital group, implemented CPS, and reports that within a year, its use of physical and chemical restraints (like clonidine, which is a powerful sedative) in young patients dropped from 20 cases per month to zero. A subsequent five-year clinical trial at Virginia Tech involving 134 children aged 7 to 14 validated the method as an effective way to treat kids with oppositional defiant disorder.

    By 2001, when The Explosive Child came out in paperback, Greene had become a sought-after speaker, even appearing on Oprah. The first peer-reviewed paper in a scientific journal validating the effectiveness of his model appeared in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, and that led to even more invitations to speak at teaching hospitals and other facilities.

    In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene's workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about "that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach." It wasn't hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

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  13. But remarkably the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek's one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. "The senior staff that resisted us the most," Bouffard told me, "would come back to me and say, 'I wish we had done this sooner. I don't have the bruises, my muscles aren't strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.'"

    Maine's second juvenile detention facility, Mountain View, also adopted Greene's method, with similar results. Incidents that resulted in injury, confinement, or restraint dropped nearly two-thirds between April 2004 and April 2008.


    LIKE THE LONG CREEK guards, staffers at Central were skeptical at first. When an enraged second-grader threw a chair at educational technician Susan Forsley one day, her first instinct was to not let him "get away with it." But she swallowed her pride and left the room until the boy calmed down. Later, she sat down with him and Principal D'Aran, and they resolved that if he felt himself getting angry like that again, he would head for the guidance office, where he'd sit with stuffed animals or a favorite book to calm down. Forsley eventually learned to read his emotions and head off problems by suggesting he take a break. "Is giving him a consequence—suspending him, calling his grandparents—is that going to teach him not to throw chairs?" she asks. "When you start doing all these consequences, they're going to dig their heels in even deeper, and nobody is going to win."

    Will had graduated from Central and outgrown most of his baby fat when I arrived for breakfast at his home one Saturday morning. As he and his brothers helped prepare apple pancakes and fruit salad, he took a break to show me "Antlandia," a board game he created to showcase his knowledge of insects. Now in fifth grade, he'd made friends at his new school and was proudly riding the bus—something he couldn't handle before.

    Between bites, Will consented to describe his experiences with the teachers and staff at Central School. "When they notice a kid that's angry, they try to help. They ask what's bothering them," he said, spiky brown bangs covering his eyebrows as he looked down at his plate. His mom, Rachel Wakefield, told me later that CPS had trained Will to be able to talk about frustrating situations and advocate for himself. Now, she said, he actually had an easier time of it than his big brother. "It's a really important skill as they enter into adolescence," she said.

    From Greene's perspective, that's the big win—not just to fix kids' behavior problems, but to set them up for success on their own. Too many educators, he believes, fixate on a child's problems outside of school walls—a turbulent home, a violent neighborhood—rather than focus on the difference the school can make. "Whatever he's going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year," Greene says. "We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing."

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/05/schools-behavior-discipline-collaborative-proactive-solutions-ross-greene

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