Why Classroom Management and Behavior Management Alone Don’t Work: Conscious Discipline and Children Who Are Hard to Reach


Problems with student behavior in schools continue to rise steadily. A recent EdWeek Research Center survey indicates 70% of educators, including 1,058 teachers, principals and district leaders, have experienced student behavior to be worse now than the fall of 2019, and it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon! How could that be, when schools are implementing child behavior management strategies at higher rates than ever before?  

Traditional classroom management and behavior management plans often focus on tracking systems that use rewards and punishments to attain desired behavior. Behavior charts, stickers, treasure boxes, and removals like detention and suspension become the focus, and challenging behaviors persist—especially among repeat offenders and children who are hard to reach. These punitive measures are shown to be ineffective and can even increase negative behaviors such as apathy, tantrums and defiance for some students. So, what does work? A connected school culture focused on cultivating self-regulation and resilience.  

The Punishment Problem 

There are a few reasons why punishments are ineffective in both educational and home settings: 

  • Punishments are about us and our judgment of a child’s behavior, rather than about the child’s actions and how those actions have impacted others. 
  • Punishments do not ask children to reflect on their actions or take personal responsibility. 
  • They do not ask children to recognize or manage their emotions. 
  • They do not teach missing skills. 
  • They do not intrinsically motivate children to change their behavior.  


The Connection Solution 

The bad news is that entering a new school year already anticipating an uptick in student behavior can feel overwhelming. The good news is that our perspective has a tremendous impact on student behavior! If we, as educators, administrators and parents, want student behavior to shift—particularly in children who are hard to reach—we can cultivate that shift by changing the way we view and respond to challenging behaviors.  

Conscious Discipline is an adult-first, evidence-based and trauma-informed approach that focuses on self-regulation and connection to create optimal learning environments. Its teachings encourage a shift to seeing all behavior as a form of communication. It’s our job to regulate ourselves first, and then figure out the missing skill or unmet need the student’s behavior is indicating. We must see a child differently if they are to behave differently. Shifting from placing our focus on the negative behavior to placing our focus on seeking out the missing skill or need and addressing it in repeated and differentiated ways has long-term positive impacts on both student behavior and achievement. 

Punitive efforts rarely grow student behavior and self-regulation in positive ways; students generally become harder to reach and more efficient at hiding or suppressing rather than managing the challenges that underly their behaviors. Establishing safety, building connection and equipping children with the skills needed to solve their own problems; however, does build student success and self-regulation.  

Why Conscious Discipline Consequences Work and Punishments Don’t, an article by Conscious Discipline creator Dr. Becky Bailey, provides actionable ways of shifting away from traditional punishment-based classroom management and behavioral management systems. 

If you are seeking a more personal, supported approach to helping those with challenging behaviors, the Connecting with Children Who are Hard to Reach event in Chicago, September 14-15 provides ample strategies and encouragement to set you on the path to success. 


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