I hope I don’t get kicked out of the teaching profession for spilling all of our secrets. I’ll be honest, quite a few professional educators I know get a kick out of disciplining misbehaving children in public without their parent’s knowledge. How is that possible? We have mastered the “look”, a powerful tool that conveys the messages “Have you lost your mind?” and “I know you aren’t doing what I think you are doing.” all rolled into one. It is amazing how many out of control children immediately cave in and behave when given the “look” (even by a complete stranger).
Good teacher training programs aren’t just about how to convey knowledge to your students. They also teach you classroom management techniques. A friend and I were talking recently. We had been education majors together in college years ago. We decided that majoring in education had made us better parents. We laughed about how the classroom management techniques we had learned worked just as well at home with our own children.
I may be risking “the look” from other teachers by telling you some of our secrets. My guess is though, they will be thrilled to have children in their class who have been taught to behave before they get there. I secretly don’t believe wild children just calm down about school age. I think it is because for many of them, their teacher is actually the first person who has taught them how to behave properly.
Some of our tricks are “do’s” and some are “dont’s”. They are in no particular order and every teacher would probably give you a slightly different list. I would imagine most good teachers would have a very similar bag of tricks. Feel free to use these yourself and share them with your friends.
1. Make the list of rules simple and clear. If you have ever had to learn a complex skill as an adult, you understand how frustrating it can be to get what seems like a hundred instructions at once, followed by “now relax.” I like to think of it as having a list of all of the behaviors you want them to master before you launch them as adults. You don’t try to teach your baby all of them in the first week of her life. Focus on one or two areas, or one item in each area at a time. If you are constantly correcting 5000 things at a time, you become a very critical, harsh parent.
2. Some rules are non-negotiable principles from the start. “God comes first.” “We always treat each other with respect and love.” “We never lie.” “We are good stewards with things that are around us.” are some good general principles. You will find lots of skills may fall within their boundaries. If your child has some basic general guidelines, you may not have to spend the time teaching each type of specific way of lying that is wrong. When faced with a new temptation to lie, your child will remember the basic principle and correct her own behavior before making a mistake.
3. Rules should be age appropriate. You can’t expect a three month old to have perfect table manners. A teenager, though should be able to have tea with the Queen without embarrassing herself. I have found most people have exceedingly low expectations for what children are capable of achieving. “Experts” can have some of the lowest expectations. Each child is different, but most children will rise to the level of expectation much better than you would think. “Tiger moms” know this and take advantage of it. I wouldn’t advise going to that extreme, but don’t be afraid to expect better behavior from your child than the average parent around you does. (For a wake up call, read some books about “average” children and their behavior in early America.)
4. Expect immediate obedience. Really good teachers do not have a “counting” system before they expect children to obey the rules. Counting to “three” before a child is expected to behave is teaching the child that obedience is optional. They learn quickly that the numbers last longer if the parent is in a better mood or doesn’t really want to enforce the rule. As one of my daughter’s teachers used to say, “Counting only teaches your child fractions, not how to behave.”
5. Be consistent in enforcing the rules. I will admit, this rule will exhaust you as a parent. It is worth the extra effort though, as the results are phenomenal if you can be consistent in your expectations for your child’s behavior. Assuming you are setting appropriate expectations for a well behaved child, consistency in enforcing those rules will almost guarantee you excellent results. Translation: You will flat wear yourself and your child out before the age of four. If done properly though, very little discipline other than gentle correction is needed after that.
6. Respect for parents and other adults in authority is non-negotiable. Nothing is more annoying than a child who is rude and disrespectful. This skill is perhaps one of the most important skills you will ever teach your child. If she does not learn to respect authority, I can almost guarantee you she will not become a faithful Christian. God demands our respect (and worship) and obedience to His commands. A child who is disrespectful is also usually disobedient. The two seem to go together as a matched set of skills. Respect does not have to authoritarian. An understanding that you will discipline with love usually creates a healthy respect in a child for a parent.
7. If you give a command, use short declarative or exclamatory statements in the lower range of your normal voice. For some reason, many adults turn their commands to children into questions in a higher pitched voice. There is a reason military officers “bark” their commands. People respond more quickly to command statements in a lower tone of voice. While I am not suggesting you treat your children like military recruits, you can learn something from their sergeants. Please note that you do not have to use a harsh tone of voice. A loving, firm tone will work well.
8. It is okay to use the word “please” before a command, especially with older children. They need to understand though that the word “please” has not turned the command into an optional request.
9. Don’t assume. Many innocent children are punished for crimes they didn’t commit. Usually a manipulative or lying nearby child has learned how to work the system and can make your child look guilty even when innocent. It will help your relationship with your child more than you will ever know if you take a few extra minutes and listen to their arguments before punishing. Make it known though if you find out later that they were lying, the consequences will be severe and immediate. Lame excuses should not be allowed, only genuine explanations of why they are being railroaded are accepted. Feeling as if they get a fair hearing will keep your relationship healthy.
10. Consequences should fit the crime. I have to admit, one of my parenting pet peeves is to watch a parent correct a child numerous times without enforcing it. Suddenly, even though they haven’t made the child obey them the first or fifth time, the behavior gets on their last nerve. Immediately, the parent delivers an extremely harsh punishment for the “crime”. The child is shocked and angry, because in his mind, the parent wasn’t serious about enforcing the command, but then suddenly delivers the death penalty (so to speak) for the same disobedience. Minor offenses should receive minor consequences unless this is a repeat offense.
11. Whenever possible, try to have the consequence be logical. If they are rude to an outside adult, consider a long time out in which they have to write an apology letter to the adult. A missed curfew without a call may mean an earlier curfew or restriction for a period of time.
12. Only punish rebellion, not childish mistakes. If your child accidentally spills her milk, you may ask her to help you clean it up, but children are often clumsy and shouldn’t be yelled at or punished for it. On the other hand, if you had asked her to move her milk to the other side so she wouldn’t spill it and she disobeyed, punishment is necessary. A two year old who innocently (and loudly) says “Look at the weird man.”, should not be punished, merely corrected gently. A teenager who has been taught how to treat people verbally and makes the same loud statement needs to be punished for being rude and disrespectful to others. Rebellion is often an indication of “heart” issues. In reality, the goal of disciplining children is to mold their hearts towards God. A child who has “good” behaviors, with a wicked heart is in much more danger than a child whose heart is on God but makes behavior mistakes.
13. Punish the behavior not the person. Make sure your child understands you do not think she is a bad person, only that she made a bad choice which must not happen again. You are punishing her to help her remember she is never to do that again. Your child should always see your eyes light up when he walks in the room. He needs to know you love him, value him and think he is capable of being a wonderful Christian even when you are correcting a bad choice or bad behavior.
14. Don’t take misbehavior personally. If you have a basically good relationship with your child, I can promise you she does not wake up thinking about how she can offend you, make you angry or hurt your feelings. Hormones, hunger, exhaustion and just bad choices are why she misbehaves. If you can remain emotionally detached from the behavior, your discipline will be more appropriate and effective.
15. Get your child on a schedule. This goes against the mainstream at the moment, but after years of working with all kinds of children, I can tell you children crave routine. They love to know what to expect when. They love having regular healthy meals and snacks (with an occasional treat) and a regular bed (and nap if young enough) time. Will they admit it? Probably not, but you will find your child behaves so much better if you feed him every few hours and he gets no less than 10-12 hours of sleep a day. (The 10-12 hours applies even to teens.) As an added bonus, your child will be healthier and you can actually make plans easily because you have a routine and a schedule.
16. Develop a look or a hand signal so your child knows he is being corrected without embarrassing him in front of others. Sometimes embarrassing your child may be part of the consequence. If it is a behavior that you know she is working on, a subtle look or previously agreed upon hand gesture is usually enough reminder to correct the behavior. If the look or gesture is obeyed immediately, I would not give out further consequences in most cases.
17. Stop it before it starts. A lot of misbehavior happens because parents are totally oblivious to their children. I have even seen a few whack their kids into various objects by accident because they forgot the kid was there. Children will often give you clues they are about to misbehave or throw a tantrum. Often they will give these clues minutes before the misbehavior actually happens. The trick is to nip it in the bud. A quick “Don’t even think about it.” or a well placed meal/snack/nap will often divert the child before the infraction has happened. Trust me, it is easier to stop a tantrum from ever happening than to stop one in full swing. Please understand, I do not mean give your child the toy she is begging for. I mean that often the tantrum is not about the toy but about the fact she is overdue for a meal or a nap. Be aware when your child’s basic needs are not being met. Try to meet them or anticipate a melt down over something else entirely.
18. Don’t be afraid to use humor. While not appropriate for serious infractions, humor can be a gentle, non-threatening way to correct bad behavior without raising tensions. It is especially effective if you already have a child with a strong sense of humor and have fun as a family. Just be careful that it is light humor and not bullying, hurtful sarcasm or verbal abuse disguised as humor.
19. After the punishment is given, re-establish your loving relationship with the child. Hug her and remind her that you will always love her no matter what. It’s okay to add that you have a responsibility given to you by God to correct her behavior when it is unacceptable.
20. Take the time to develop a loving relationship with your child. Rebellious children are often that way because their parents have delivered strict discipline without the loving relationship wrapped around it. If you treat your child with great love and respect, they will respond so much better to your correction. Not every interaction with your child needs to be corrective. Most of them should be loving, supportive and fun. Children are excellent at detecting who really loves and cares about them and who is just “phoning it in.” The older your children are, the more time you should be able to spend listening and loving rather than correcting. (It should always be that way. When your child is young though, it may feel like you are disciplining constantly. There will be days like that, but try to take some time during those bad days to cuddle with your child and tell him how much you love him. )
Give these teacher classroom management techniques a try. My guess is you will find they will work just as well with your own children. Just remember that if you truly want to dedicate your child to the Lord, it is easier for God to reach and use children who have been trained to be obedient, respectful and to follow His commands than children who have been allowed to be disobedient.