The American education system has no idea how to discipline children, says groundbreaking psychologist

Dr. Ross Greene would rather parents and teachers try to understand their misbehaving children than punish them.

Greene, a clinical child psychologist and associate professor at Virginia Tech, first presented that idea in his 1998 book “The Explosive Child,” in which he debuted a program he calls Collaborative & Proactive Solutions.

Today, CPS is poised to revolutionise the way American society treats its behaviorally challenging youngsters.

The conventional model of using carrots and sticks to earn kids’ cooperation is inherently flawed, Greene says.

According to Greene, kids who act out, sometimes violently, do so because that’s how their brains are wired. They don’t necessarily want to misbehave; they just can’t help it.

“The most important thing you can do to help your explosive kid be less explosive is to understand why he’s explosive in the first place,” Greene writes in “The Explosive Child.”

That means trading in the time outs and harsh words for direct, focused interaction with a child.

If a boy swears in your classroom, save the conversation until class is over to avoid embarrassing him. If a girl refuses to do her work, have the patience to hear her say why.

In the short term, these techniques are bound to drum up some frustration. (“Can’t I just show him who’s boss?”) But over time the effects are clear: CPS corrects behaviour.

According to Mother Jones, putting Greene’s system to work at Central School in South Berwick, Maine, helped cut punishment rates in the 2009-2010 school year from 146 disciplines referrals and two suspensions down to 45 referrals and zero suspensions two years later.

The school reached this impressive milestone by taking a different approach to discipline — by “meeting the child’s needs and solving problems instead of controlling behaviour,” principal Nina D’Aran told Mother Jones’ Katherine Reynolds Lewis. “That’s a big shift.”

It could be a big shift for millions more. The latest data shows that roughly 5 million kids have a learning disability and 16 million have experienced trauma or abuse, which, as Business Insider previously reported, stands as one of the largest factors in motivating violent crime.

Avoiding that worst-case scenario begins with giving kids a fair shot at not being their own worst enemies. Respect that they have good intentions, Greene reasons, but also that they may lack the cognitive development to think flexibly, tolerate frustration, and solve problems.

“From this perspective,” he writes, “focusing your energy on rewarding and punishing your child and teaching him who’s the boss may actually be counterproductive because such an approach often sets the stage for explosions that won’t teach him the skills he’s lacking.”

In other words, we can use carrots and sticks all we want to discipline our kids. But we shouldn’t be surprised — or blame our children — when they don’t work.

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