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Punishment by Example

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: The principal of our school announces the names of the children who have broken a school rule over the PA system for all to hear. I am very concerned about what this public humiliation will do to the children's self esteem. I am in the process of collecting information to present to the school board. Is there anything you can tell me about the effect this has on children?

A: Most authorities would agree that what this principal does is inappropriate. You may want to try to change this policy by working through the school first, then by moving to the central office level. Has anyone tried to talk with the principal about this? If not, go to see him or her, either by yourself or with a few other parents, to discuss what is being done.

Most schools today are run by a School Improvement Team or a School Leadership Team which include parent representatives -- these teams help make decisions about the running of the school. Check to see if your school has such a team in place and ask to address the group to express your concern.

If neither of the above work or are possible, call the school system central office. All school systems have a chain of command, and the principal of your school has a supervisor. Ask to talk with him or her and explain what is going on at the school. If this still has no effect, keep going up the ladder -- talking with the school system superintendent and then if necessary, to members of the school board.

For information on children's self-esteem and how it might be affected by this, check the websites for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (, the National Association of School Psychologists (, or the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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