Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: Don't Swear With Your Mouth Full! by Dr. Cary Chugh

Educators know that in most U.S. schools, the most common approach to discipline is a version of detention.  At the elementary level, this takes the form of time-out or staying in from recess, lunch or other activities.  At the middle and high school level, the same principle is applied in the form of after-school detentions, in-school suspension, and out of school suspension.

In essence, our de facto response tells students You've misbehaved, so you must leave class for this amount of time.  Of course, I think most educators also know that for the most consistently challenging students, this approach usually fails to improve the student's behavior.  In his book Don't Swear with Your Mouth Full! When Conventional Discipline Fails Unconventional Children, child psychologist Dr. Cary Chugh makes the case for a better way to deal with students when the most common methods fail.

One of Dr. Chugh's main themes throughout the book is that there are no easy answers, no one-size-fits-all solutions to behavior problems.  Each problem requires a unique approach that has one goal in mind: make sure the child learns from whatever discipline you use.  Your child (or student) needs to learn the self-control required to not engage in the same misbehavior in the future.  In the book,

Dr. Chugh explains what research says we should be doing and compares it to what most parents and teachers already do.  Use of methods like the example above, something the author terms time-limited discipline, is deconstructed and analyzed.  He easily reveals why the idea that adults need (or will ever actually have) complete control over a child's behavior is no more than a myth.  It's helpful that the author always explains what the child's perspective on everything is and how they will respond to a wide range of conventional methods.  Ironically, he doesn't say that everything we do is wrong: for the most part, it's how we do it.

For example, Dr. Chugh doesn't say we should throw out ideas like time-out or detention.  Instead, we should remove the time limit and create a situation where the student can end their punishment if they can demonstrate the proper behavior we're seeking.  He doesn't really advocate creating positive incentives either; for most of the examples he gives, the child's incentive to behave is that the punishment will end.  This is a powerful idea that doesn't exist when we say something like, "You have to go to your room for the rest of the night," or "You're going to be in ISS for the next two days."  The child is stuck, and whether they're ready to go back to class in ten minutes or still not ready after that time frame has ended, we haven't actually solved the problem.

The author terms this alternative behavior-limited punishment, and this idea is really at the heart of the book.  Other methods may work temporarily, making misbehavior more manageable.  They may work great with children that rarely misbehave or get into trouble.  Don't Swear with Your Mouth Full!, however, is aimed at dealing with children where the situation has gotten out of control or the child has emotional and psychological issues causing serious misbehavior.  It's about repairing relationships and making real, long term positive changes in difficult situations.

The book is a quick and easy read, with each chapter ending in a series of Take-Home Points that summarize the most salient and critical information.  While the main audience for this book is parents, everything Dr. Chugh discusses absolutely applies to the classroom as well.  He differentiates his approach for young children and teenagers.  In addition, there's a chapter entitled "From Teacher's Pest to Teacher's Pet" that addresses these issues at school directly.  The last chapter serves as a review and clear starting point for changing our thinking about discipline and how to apply the author's ideas at home and in the classroom.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book for parent and teacher alike.  It's a refreshing, well-researched and well thought out perspective on the most frustrating and pervasive issue we deal with when it comes to kids.

Don't Swear with Your Mouth Full! When Conventional Discipline Fails Unconventional Children is available on Amazon.com as well as directly from Dr. Chugh's website.

Interview with Dr. Chugh Part 1 and Part 2
Enter for a chance to win the book