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27 APRIL 2001
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Constructive alternatives to punishment

Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice*

The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice is designed to improve services to children and youth with, or at risk of, developing emotional or behavioral problems. The Center’s goal is to identify “what works” and disseminate that information to the wider community. In this new regular feature, the Center will share brief examples of promising practices and programs.

The goal of the use of consequences should be to teach children appropriate behaviors. Punishment that singles out children or that produces guilt does not teach them anything. The alternatives presented in this article provide opportunities for adults to teach children positive behavior skills for success in life rather than to resort to traditional punishment. Some alternatives can be preventative in nature, addressing the cause of a problem before it occurs; others can be responsive techniques for dealing with an existing conflict.

The Positive Education Program

The Positive Education Program (PEP) in Cleveland, Ohio, uses a strategy called the problem-solving meeting to teach students processes and techniques for resolving problems peacefully. A problem-solving meeting can be called when any situation that creates a problem for one or more students also affects the group, or when teachers determine that a situation requires a group solution to a group problem. The procedure includes the following steps:

This process provides students with the opportunity to discover their own solutions and to resolve conflicts on their own through dialogue, rather than through violence.

Courtesy of Tom Valore, program coordinator, West Shore Day Treatment Center, Positive Education Program; 216/331-9391

Boys Town

Boys Town, a nationally recognized organization with a tradition of caring for troubled children, offers two examples of alternatives to traditional punishment that teach children replacement behaviors: token economy with response cost and natural consequences.

In a token economy system with a response cost component, children earn tokens for appropriate behaviors and lose tokens for inappropriate behaviors. Two things increase the effectiveness of these systems:

Consequences should be natural and make sense to the child; otherwise, they fail to teach alternatives to the inappropriate behavior. For example, when a child misbehaves on the playground, a traditional punishment might be to deny the child recess privileges. This may seem like a logical consequence, but it still does not teach an alternative behavior. A more effective natural consequence would include:

This technique does not just provide a consequence for the behavior; more importantly, it teaches the child the appropriate behavior and allows time for her or him to actually practice it in a natural setting.

Courtesy of Andrea Criste, director of education training, Boys Town; 402/498-1111

The Westerly School District

The Westerly School District in Westerly, Rhode Island, offers a variety of programs to prevent conflicts that could lead to punishments as severe as suspension or expulsion. One such high school-level program, STAR (Student Team Assistance Room), is a place to which students are referred for behavior problems. STAR offers a more centralized, consistent, and accessible form of intense emotional sup-port than either a general or special education classroom can provide. STAR seeks to teach responsibility and respect through helping the student (a) work through an under-standing of the problem and (b) come to a resolution. STAR can be a strategy for dealing with anger (e.g., a student on the verge of a “blow-up” has the option of checking into STAR to “cool off” and avert a potentially violent incident).

Courtesy of Mark Hawk, director of special education, and Robin Dacosta, teacher, Babcock Middle School, Westerly School District; 401/596-0315, ext. 213

The New Opportunities Program

The New Opportunities Program in Lane County, Oregon, offers two community-wide initiatives to pre-vent the escalation of potential problems: behavior sup-port and a commitment to rehabilitation rather than incarceration. More precisely, it offers the following:

Courtesy of Bruce Abel, program manager, Lane County Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health; 541/682-7275

Alternatives to traditional punishment provide the opportunity for a child to learn appropriate skills to replace problem behaviors. These skills are the tools children need to complete school, get and keep a job, and form positive relationships with others. Replacing punitive consequences with constructive, rehabilitative alternatives gives children a better shot at success in life.

This article was prepared in collaboration with the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice as part of its information exchange efforts. For more information on issues related to children and youth with emotional or behavioral problems and their families, contact the Center at: 1000 Thomas Jefferson St., NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20007, or visit their Website at:

* This feature is one of the “free pages" from Reclaiming Children and Youth, the journal of strength-based interventions.

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