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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?

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