Instructor Mindset: Building Good Behavior and Responsibilities Within Children

By Melody Johnson

Fact: If you stick with the common “old school” teaching method, chances are you will limit your results with today’s youthful generation…

A well-known professor and author of behavioral science, Douglas McGregor, examined the methods for prompting proper behavior, and concluded that there are two types of theories that people hold regarding the way behavior and responsibility are taught. These two types are called Theory X and Theory Y. Each includes a very different assumption on the approach. By understanding both types of theories, one can become a better motivator and build good behavior and better responsibilities within children.

Theory X

McGregor concluded in his studies that people whom use authoritative methods for establishing discipline fall under the Theory X assumption. These people demonstrated many beliefs including the belief that discipline should come from the top-down, and that all people beneath must follow accordingly or be reprimanded for their actions, or lack there of. McGregor believes that this theory is inadequate for full development of human behavior, especially pertaining to child behavior.

Theory X, related to children, is based on the following assumptions:

  • The average child does not like good behavior and will avoid it at all costs.
  • The average child wishes to avoid responsibilities.
  • Because Theory X people believe that children have a natural dislike for good behavior and responsibility, they must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment to establish discipline.

These assumptions are not specifically stated by all people that fall under the Theory X beliefs, but their actions seem to lean towards these thoughts. Those people who have some type of Theory X belief usually are sterner with children and may have some characteristics to that of a drill sergeant. In most cases, this type of martial arts instructor will have very limited results when working with the average child in today’s generation.

Theory Y

McGregor also concluded that the other type of approach, Theory Y, is more consistent with building good behavior and responsibilities within the average child. People that fall under this category are considered motivators, leaders, and goal-oriented educators. The central principal of the Theory Y assumption is based on leading others to success through consistent direction and collaboration. Theory Y followers can transform most behaviors into a positive one without the need for consistent threats and/ or punishments.

Theory Y, related to children, is based on the following assumptions:

  • The average child likes the feeling of good discipline.
  • The development of physical and mental growth is a natural process in children. Negative approaches to discipline only make children dislike the concept of good behavior; positive approaches reinforce the child’s motivation to have good behavior.
  • Children will become more responsible if they have a clear guideline to follow on a consistent basis.

These assumptions carry the momentum of children’s growth and development into a very positive direction. Theory Y encourages growth and development without the need for force. In the average martial arts classroom, instructors that follow the Theory Y assumptions maintain much better discipline and can easily motivate children to have exceptional behavior.

Key tips to remember when building behavior and responsibility:

  1. How a person attempts to motivate others depends on how a person views others.
  2. People that follow Theory X assumptions believe that children need to be controlled and reprimanded to establish good behavior and responsibility.
  3. People that follow Theory Y assumptions believe that children will build good behavior and responsibility through encouragement and proper guidance.

Here’s how you can increase your student’s behavior and responsibilities at the dojo using the Theory Y approach:

  1. Catch the students doing things right. Say his or her name and what they did to make you proud.
  2. Speak of being responsible and having good behavior as being very easy, very fun, and very cool to follow.
  3. Consistently provide proper guidance on how to have good behavior and responsibility. If one falls out of line, provide them with positive feedback on how they can get back on track.
  4. Prompt good behavior by pointing out other children that are demonstrating the proper behavior.
  5. Reward good behavior with tons of smiles, high-fives, and fun time during class.


Establishing and maintaining good behavior does not have to seem like a chore. Your perception of how child learn behavior is very important. If you follow the Theory X assumptions, then you are limiting your success. If you follow the Theory Y assumptions, then you will increase your ability to motivate your students. By following the Theory Y suggestions provided in this report, you will notice your students’ behavior constantly improving.