I spent over thirteen hours observing a child today. Tomorrow I'll take my notes and a bit of footage I caught with my cell phone [because the behavior was so unusual that it was easier to videotape it than to attempt to describe it with mere words], share everything with my superiors, and, with their help, devise a plan to curb the most disruptive behaviors. I could probably come up with the plan on my own, but one of the behaviors was so very disturbing to me that I felt that someone with more qualifications and more authority than I possess should be aware that it is happening.
For obvious reasons, I should not discuss specific behaviors I observed. For the most part, this child's acts of misbehavior were mild as compared to what I observed on Youtube this weekend. It's mostly a matter of common sense in terms of what needs to be done about the behaviors as well. Even though the solutions seem obvious to me, I'm willing to cut the parents a bit of slack; a person loses perspective in a big way when his or her child is involved.
One thing that will have to happen is the "time-out" (or whatever you want to call it) concept will have to be cemented into place. It's a very good idea for parents to implement the "time-out" concept when a child is very young -- ideally before the child reaches the age of two. The logistics are much simpler when the child is smaller. The child I observed today is five and is large as five-year-olds go. It seems unlikely that he will comply right away when he is placed in a designated time-out spot. We could be facing a bit of a marathon.
Part of the idea of "time-out" is that the child needs to stay there willingly and not have to be locked or restrained into place. If it's done as it is intended to be done, the child is only there (once he or she has actually remained in place for the required time) for one minute per year of the child's age. It's only intended as a brief time during which a child reflects on his or her behavior. The problem comes when a child has not yet been taught to remain in the designated time-out spot until he or she has been given permission to leave. It may take anywhere from five to two-hundred or more times of placing the child back into the time-out spot before he or she grasps the concept that the parent is not going to give up and that the child has no alternative but to fulfill his or her time-out.
The teaching of the time-out concept needs to happen before a child reaches school age, as school personnel have limited means of discipline at their disposal. Time-out, by whatever name it is called, is the primary negative consequence employed by teachers, who have every right to assume that a school-aged child with age-appropriate neurological development will comply with a directive to remain in a specific location for a short designated time. Teachers under the best of circumstances are handcuffed when it comes to disciplining students. If teachers cannot even place students in time-out and expect them remain there, schools will have total anarchy, and nothing of substance will be taught or learned.
Some children are so strong-willed that they may give a parent difficulty during consecutive time-out sessions, though the first time is almost always the worst. If a parent sticks with the plan, the child - if he or she is at least of near-normal intelligence -- will eventually concede. If the child has outlasted the parents in the past, however -- and usually the child has outlasted the parents in situations where behavior consultants are called in to rectify a situation -- a child may resist all the more enthusiastically. It's usually the parents of that child who will want to throw in the towel on time-outs because they "just don't work" with the child. The problem is that the child's parents believe that nothing works in curbing their child's misbehavior because the child has managed to outlast his parents every single time in his life that they have attempted discipline. Almost any consequence if applied consistently will eliminate undesirable behaviors. It's just that it has to be applied until the target behavior ceases.
Some parents think corporal punishment is the most effective of consequences, but, in reality, it's simply the least labor-intensive method of discipline for a parent to employ. Spanking is great for lazy parents. The lazy parent slaps a child, then his work is over. It takes a lot more of a parent's time and energy to repeatedly re-place a young child into a time-out spot. When the child is a bit older, it impacts a parent far more to have to enforce a grounding or a removal of video game privileges for the duration of the punishment than it does to smack the child. Loss of privileges also causes the child more displeasure in most cases. With a spanking, the kid has to endure a whack or two, then he or she gets to return to business as usual with full privileges. The staying power of a well-enforced loss of privileges is, in the long run, a far superior deterrent to future acts of misbehavior than is corporal punishment.
A final thing that will have to be addressed with the child I am helping is that unnecessary rules are not helpful to anyone. A child needs not to hurt or endanger himself or anyone else. He needs not to damage property. A child much past the age of two should be able to be able to be taken into public for a reasonable amount of time -- for the sake of argument, the amount of time it takes to consume a meal -- without the child creating a disturbance of such magnitude that it interferes with the pleasure of others. A child should comply reasonably well with the directives of authority figures. (This is probably another topic for another day, but authority figures need to keep their directives to a minimum.)
Beyond that, rules are probably unnecessary. Is the child truly harming anyone by cutting his peas before he eats them? I think it's great that he's eating them at all, whether they're cut or whole. Perhaps a boy likes to dig in the dirt with his hands. Must there be a rule against digging with one's hands, or should he wash his hands when he is finished digging in the dirt and then scrub them thoroughly at bath time? Does a child need to remain at the dinner table for a full forty minutes as parents sip an extra glass of wine? Sometimes rules are arbitrary, and sometimes we ask too much of a child. Sometimes we create our own problems.