Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents
reviewed by Debra Harkins - July 29, 2014
Title: Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents
Author(s): Stephen Greenspan
Publisher: Temple University Press, Philadelphia
ISBN: 1439908974, Pages: 214, Year: 2012
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Often our "intuitive" sense of how to discipline is based on our experience of being disciplinedone that usually involved an obedience-based approach. As a developmental psychologist and clinical professor of psychiatry, Stephen Greenspan in his book, Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents, asserts: "Few things are more frustrating to adults than being unable to get children to mind them. A feeling of incompetence...is a major source of parental unhappiness and the main reason why half of all new teachers quit the profession within the first five years." The huge problem of " caregiver burn-out" is real and troubling and reflects not only those caring for the ill, but also those struggling to manage child behavior issues.
Greenspan seeks to help the stressed out parent and teacher in his well-researched integrative ABC's theory about how to discipline children for long-term social development. Growing from his doctoral dissertation and over 35 years of extensive research on parenting discipline, personal and social competence, and intellectual disabilities, Greenspan discusses how affective (Freudian), behavioral (Skinnerian) and cognitive (Adlerian) discipline theories share the same three basic core principles of warmth, tolerance, and influence to effectively change behavior. With each school of thought, he offers a set of three principles that make up his ABC model of discipline. He begins by explaining three traditional discipline theories (affect, behavior and thought) and how one should seek balance across the three core principles of warmth, tolerance, and influence leading to a total of nine principles of discipline. Next, Greenspan moves to the practical level showing how to apply this theory to address discipline challenges. The book ends with how to use the nine principles to arrive at an individualized style of discipline for parents and teachers.
Integrating these disparate theories is quite a feat given some of the very basic differences often associated with affective, behavioral and cognitive psychological theories. However, Greenspan is able to use and cut through the theoretical and research chatter to provide the reader with a thoroughly researched system of nine principles for effective disciplining. The main strength of this book is the unique attempt to look broadly and deeply at the goals and techniques of discipline and to provide a theoretically sound and empirically supported integrative theory that helps parents and teachers effectively discipline children across a wide variety of inevitable child behavioral challenges.
Greenspan's study of and concern with the effects of gullibility likely contributed to his additional goal of trying to help those teaching and raising children to be more discerning consumers when reading the discipline literature. As Greenspan points out, "Guidebooks abound, espousing philosophies of child-rearing and discipline regimes that run the gamut from the most rigid to the most permissive." Mechanistic approaches that focus on either end of this discipline continuum permeate much of the discipline advice literature, and Greenspan argues they are all equally problematic and unbalanced. Making a strong distinction between discipline for obedience or control versus successful discipline, Greenspan provides a more balanced constructive discipline approach based on extensive empirical research of effective parenting goals for raising happy and socially intelligent adults.
Elements of Discipline provides a rare integrated theoretical approach backed by extensive research and real life examples where Greenspan reveals how discipline using the basic principles of warmth, tolerance, and influence leads to happier, bolder, and nicer children and eventually adults. He provides clear and helpful figures and tables that help the reader follow the often dense empirical findings across three psychological approaches. A good dose of discipline techniques based on caregiver goals are included in the book for those needing to see these theories in action. And, finally Greenspan provides a set of tools to evaluate whether a "new" discipline book meets the core principles of a balanced, centered, and effective discipline approach.
Greenspan is upfront in his preface that Elements of Discipline is written in a quasi-academic manner making demands of readers without knowledge of child development. Still I wonder if his academic voice could have been softened. Given my own struggles with writing less academically, I find it difficult to be too harsh on this point; non-academics might be more critical. Although much of the information in this book is common knowledge to the seasoned child researcher and those teaching in the academy, the practical applications of developmental theories and research are often not addressed in academic coursework to those just learning child development theory and trying to figure out how to apply the newly learned theories to work with children. Greenspan's book is an admirable attempt to fill the gap between theory and practice.
Parents, teachers, students, and childcare professionals alike should read Greenspan's book and use his ABC's theoretical framework when deciding when, where, and how to discipline children. This book would be a welcome supplementary textbook for undergraduate students taking psychology and education-focused child development courses as it moves beyond traditional academic theory and into more practical applications. Readers of this book will gain knowledge of discipline approaches, thereby reducing confusion when reading the discipline literature; they will be able to deal creatively and flexibly across a wide variety of childcare challenges using Greenspan's toolkit of balancing warmth, tolerance, and influence; and they will be able to avoid falling prey to flawed discipline advice. Using the ABC model of discipline, articulated by Greenspan, ensures a more successful and positive discipline practice for those seeking to help raise socially competent adults.