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Dealing With Minor Misbehavior in School

Updated on March 25, 2018
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle worked for 20 years in elementary schools as a sub teacher, eventually presenting teacher training workshops in Orange County, CA.

"Don't talk !"

"Stop interrupting! "

"Don't bother other students. "

"Stop making that noise."

"Don't waste time!"

Many classroom teachers and even parents, use negative commands to children when trying to control behavior. These "Don't do.." and "Stop doing..." demands are often ineffective, and sometimes even escalate a minor problem into a larger one.

While trying to assert their authority parents and teachers don't usually realize that they are actually reinforcing the behavior they wish to halt.

Perfect Behavior

Positive Re-direction

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? A picture may actually pop into your mind. It's automatic, no matter who you are. If someone asks you to stop doing something you think about it.

If I really wanted you to stop thinking about that unlikely speckled creature, it would have been 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 often 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 when stronger words and actions are needed. If, for instance, there is a serious emergency you will probably need to give clear and direct orders.

But on a daily basis there are suggestions which can smooth out little annoyances and distractions and keep things from getting out of hand.

Four Strategies

Here are three simple strategies for getting children back on track. Practice them often, until they become second nature, and you will avoid many minor 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 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 in the back of a group. 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 - Ask a question.

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. Usually it brings out the desired behavior even if they do not answer in words.

They DO know what is expected. They know the answer is not "talking, running, bothering and noise making."

Bring the right answer out of the student with a "think-starter". It gives them the opportunity to make the right choice, and makes them feel as if it is their own decision, rather than having them feel like they are being forced into doing the right thing.

The next time you want to blurt, "Stop Talking", take a moment to think of these other choices.

It takes a little patience and practice, but you will find that, over time, it makes things go more smoothly.

Once you get into the habit of not reinforcing negative behavior, cooperation increases and your days will be much more pleasant.

Do You think these strategies would work for you?

See results

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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you. And they DO work.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      7 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Very good suggestions.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks! Sometimes the simple things can make a big difference.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Sounds so simple and yet so powerfully true. I see this to be more effective esp. when we deal with kids in our preschool...and well, in all areas of our lives actually. Thanks for this hub.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      I used to do occasional six-hour workshops contracted through a large county board of Education in Southrn California. It was great fun because sub teachers get so little help and attention-- they were always very appreciative.

      I have been retired for awhile-- but when I discovered hub pages I thought I might recycle some of the ideas that i had learned before.

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      10 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      I have been a sub, and at times it was great, and at times it was terrible.  Thanks for sharing some great tips that are good for ALL teachers to remember and practice. 

      Do you also work for any agency in your state or region that helps educate teachers about best teaching practices?  We have a great organization here in Illinois that goes to schools and offers seminars on best practices.

      If you don't work for such a group, I think you should - your ideas are spot on great and I would recommend your hubs for any teacher that wants to become better at the art of teaching.

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