Think FIRST Before you Punish

Sometimes things happen in our classrooms and we have to punish our students. Hopefully these instances are few and far between, but more than likely, each one of you have had to punish a student for their negative choices. The topic of punishment was brought to my attention by brain researcher, John Medina. John is the author of the books Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby.

He also has an interactive website, Brain Rules, which contains videos and articles on brain research. I recently watched this video on his website regarding the importance of creating consistency when punishing our children.


It made me realize that we need to be aware of how we are punishing our children and our students.

John Medina uses the word FIRST as an acronym for remembering how to make punishments effective.

F Firm– punishment must mean something. It has to be firm and aversive to be effective. Be sure not to scare your students or intimidate them so they feel uncomfortable.
I Immediate– the closer the punishment is delivered at the point of infraction, the more effective it becomes.
R Reliable– punishment must be consistently applied whenever the obnoxious behavior is displayed. Inconsistently applied rules are confusing and lead to uneven moral development.
S Safe– the rules must be supplied in an atmosphere of emotional safety. Children have a hard time internalizing moral behavior in of constant threat.
T Tolerant– this is a call for patience. Children rarely internalize rules on the first try, and sometimes not on the tenth.

So as you begin to think about the start of the school year, remember the word FIRST as you are creating rules and expectations for your classroom.

What are some of the consequences you have in your classroom?

Do you agree with John Mdeina’s acronym FIRST?

Cassidy Reinken

This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • I love John Medina.  His books are funny, anecdotal, and easy to read, which is saying a lot when the subject is brain science!  Great post!

  • I think that sometimes a consequence is necessary, and the consistency is so key! I struggle with consistency, however, when I am consistent, my days go much, much more smoothly! Thanks for sharing a great resource. 

  • annberman

    I was was due in 3 weeks and that morning I was noticing an uncomfortable ache. It came and went. I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks (false) contractions. This was to be my 2nd child, my first arriving 11 days late, so I really didn’t think I was ready to pop this early. It was late April and I was hanging the student art show. 9 months preggers and up and down the ladder. During classes, I would have to stop and “breathe through” the ache. Calling my OBGYN she said I was early, and not to be concerned as they were not real contractions. So I continued throughout the day. By 1pm a teacher in the lunch room took one look at me hoo hoo-ing and hee hee-ing and declared that I was officially in labor and to get to the hospital. Looking at my times I had jotted down, these “aches” were consistently 14 min. apart…very steady! Stubborn me, I finished the day, and ended up giving birth later that evening. 3 weeks early, but a perfectly healthy baby girl! A few days later, on my way home from the hospital, I instructed my hubby to stop by the school as I hadn’t done my sub plans for my maternity leave. He thought I was nuts, but I went in to my classroom, with the baby in my arms, wrote up my sub plans, said hi to everyone, and went home. Needless to say I was known as the amazon mother. Giving birth in the field, throwing the baby on her back, and continuing to work the crop. I found out later that my students didn’t even realize I was prgnant, they just thought I was getting fat :-D!!!!!!!

    • Isn’t it funny how we are about our sub plans, I feel the same way.  Wow- you are one tough woman!

  • Oldhwy61

    I totally agree with his discipline plan.  Positive reinforcement adjusts an attitude better than a negative, so if we can keep the atmosphere positive with encouragements and recognition for good decision making, then there is much less need for any punishment.  I once heard that any negative should be balanced with three positives to get a class moving back in the right direction.