Social Skills Series – Part 2: Progress, Not Punishment

By Stephanie Sesic Greer

Just as conflict is a common occurrence among young children who have yet to fully develop their social skills, so discipline is a common concern among parents who naturally wish to ensure that no harm comes to their child as the result of a conflict.


Here at Spring Garden, some traditional disciplinary tools, such as accident and behavior reports, are used when serious behavioral issues arise. On the whole, however, the teacher’s goal is not to punish children for a behavior but rather to help children progress in their ability to govern their own emotions and temper their own actions so that ultimately, outside intervention or punishment from an authority figure becomes unnecessary.

A child may be separated from the rest of the class as the result of a conflict, but this is not a punishment so much as an opportunity for the child to calm down enough to reflect upon the conflict and to help in resolving it through discussion with the teacher and the other children.

This focus on progress rather than punishment helps children establish an internally derived sense of self-worth. For example, a child who is frequently involved in conflicts on the playground, rather than being scolded or given a detention, may need to have temporary physical limits placed on her or his play area in order to limit the potential for conflict with other children. A child who has a hard time avoiding conflict may need more boundaries in order to feel secure and to succeed on a smaller scale. Once the child has successfully and consistently avoided conflict within this smaller play area where fewer children will be encountered, the teacher will gradually expand the child’s play area. This process allows the child to progress toward better self-control and healthier interactions and, ultimately, a greater sense of self-worth based on those accomplishments.

Avoiding a simplistic system of punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior provides real self-improvement to children who might otherwise be labeled as “bad.” In a less obvious but no less important way, the Waldorf method also better serves children who might otherwise be labeled as “good” for reporting the bad behavior of their peers.  Children who are told they are “good” for following the rules and reporting the rule breakers for punishment are unwittingly being encouraged to become overly competitive and self-serving, and they are learning to base their self-worth on external factors rather than on a more reliable internal sense. Such labeling of children also creates a divide in the classroom, undermining the sense of community that Spring Garden prides itself on cultivating.

In the next post in our series, I’ll discuss how our teachers use the Waldorf academic curriculum to reinforce students’ social skills.

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