Correcting Minor Misbehavior in School
"Don't talk !" "Stop interrupting! "
"Don't bother other students. "
"Keep your hands to yourself."
"Stop making that noise."
"Don't waste time!"
Many parents and even classroom teachers use negative commands to children, which are rarely effective.
While trying to assert their authority they don't recognize the fact that they are actually reinforcing the behavior they wish to halt.
Here's an illustration: If I tell you NOT to think about a blue polka dotted alligator -- what do you think about?
You automatically think of an alligator with dots on it, don't you? It's automatic, no matter who you are.
If I really wanted you to stop thinking about that unlikely creature, I would have done better to tell you what I WANT you to do, like "think of a green kitten."
See, that works too. In other words, directing the child to the desired positive activity works better than strengthening the negative image. It also keeps you from seeming to be overly annoyed (which is sometimes the goal of the child).
Focusing on the positive behavior does several things:
- It decreases the probability of confrontation.
- It makes you appear to be calm and in control.
- It gives the child a chance to "choose" the correct behavior, and gain a sense of self-control.
I am speaking here about minor, low level corrections. There ARE times for stronger words and actions, but these suggestions can smooth out a lot of the little annoyances and distractions, and keep things from getting out of hand.
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Here are four simple strategies for getting children back on track. Practice them often, until they become second nature, and you will avoid many conflicts.
1. "It Is Time"
If you tell a student , "It is time to do your work", they are directed toward the positive behavior and away from the talking, running, bothering and noise making.
"It is time . . . . . . to finish your work, . . . to get out your math book, . . . to get ready for lunch." The "It is time" phrase presupposes that "this is just the way things are" and doesn't seem like you are giving a direct command that invites a challenge.
2. "I need. . ."
Think about what behaviors you need, and state them calmly and clearly.
"I need to have everyone finishing their work so we can all have plenty of time for the next (fun) activity."
Sometimes when I am giving a field trip tour to school groups, and lecturing about items in the history museum, I will have children talking to each other. I say, "I need to have good listeners, now." This is always more effective than saying "Stop Talking!" in a demanding way.
3. Think Starters
Another effective tactic to bring the desired behavior form a child is to ask a question.
"What do we need to do now?", "What should you be doing now?", "Where do your hands belong?" or a similar question usually puts students back on track.
They DO know what is expected. They know the answer is NOT "talking, running, bothering and noise making."
Bring the answer out of the student with a think-starter.
The next time you want to blurt, "Stop Talking", take a moment to think of these other choices. Once you get into the habit of not reinforcing negative behavior, your days will be much more pleasant.
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