It’s so easy to think that kids should naturally know how to behave in all situations. We sometimes think that they are adults in tiny bodies. We need to remember that that is not the case.
When I started out teaching I was chatting with a teacher friend. She said something to the effect of “It’s sort of ridiculous how specific you have to be when telling children what to do and when giving directions. Things that you think are implied are not. You have to say every little thing!” She is so very right! If you want a class of kids to go quietly back to their seats it seems like it would be sufficient to say “Go quietly back to your seats”. If you say that, they will go back quietly, but it still may not be how you wanted them to do it. One student will take the looooongest route back to his seat. Someone else will touch, poke, or try to trip another kid. Another student may swing by the drinking fountain to get some water. Kids tend to find a way to follow what you said, but not what you meant.
For a brief time I thought kids were doing things to intentionally bother me. I thought that they were trying to push my buttons and drive me crazy. They were doing what I asked. But they were only doing the minimum of what I asked. They were living within the boundaries that I had given. I had simply not been specific enough when telling them what I expected. I soon realized that kids need details and specific instructions.
If you want to avoid the pit stops and lollygagging you have to be OVERLY clear and specific about what you want. It has to sound more like this: “When I say ‘go’ I want you to go quietly and quickly to your desk. Do not touch anyone or anything. Put your hands on top of your desk when you get there and look at me. Go.” That way if they get a drink or touch someone they know there will be a consequence. They knew the expectation and chose not to follow through. Discipline becomes much easier and more natural when expectations are very clear.
Reasoning, drawing conclusions and reading between the lines are skills that kids have to learn. They are not born with those abilities, they develop over time. They have to be shown, reminded and directed over and over (and over and over and over) again. It’s a process. It can be frustrating and try your patience, but persistence will yield a positive outcome!
If you are going to leave the house (to go grocery shopping or to a play date, etc) this same principle applies here. Before you get in the car talk about what is expected. Depending on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing you may chose to talk about:
– How long you’ll be there – How to treat their friends’ toys – What you’ll be buying and not buying – What they need to do when you let them know it’s time to go (giving a 2 or 3 minute warning is really helpful)
Establishing expectations also helps with being able to discipline. If you have talked about what is expected, then 1) you can praise then and let them know how great they did or 2) follow up with a natural consequence if they deviated from what you previously talked about.
- Before any situation, talk about what is going to happen
- Be specific about your expectations
- Follow through with consequences
- Praise them if they did well