Dear Kid Whisperer,
I am a nagging, mean teacher. At least that is how I feel most days. I arrive every day thinking to myself “OK, I’m going to be nice today”. I say it to myself during the morning, and it’s almost comical; literally two seconds later a kid does something and I either yell or talk through my gritted teeth or I’ll use sarcasm or some other useless idea. I know none of it works, but I just have these knee-jerk reactions. I’m in the middle of my first year of teaching and I’m starting to think that I have wasted the last five years of my life. Ugh, I want to stop reacting with anger, but how?
-Eva, Pittsburgh, PA
I feel for you. I have always said that being nice to one kid is human nature, and being nice to twenty five kids is a skill. It sounds like you have a very high control need, just like me. I have a need for all behaviors to be perfect, and I feel frustration when we don’t achieve this perfection. I used to be like you: reacting with frustration and anger when kids acted out. Even as I learned Love and Logic® skills, I would get angry, which made the kid angry. Then she’d get even more angry, etcetera, etcetera. I have lots of Love and Logic strategies for dealing with this. I’m just going to show you one today. It’s called Specific Positive Noticing (SPN).
I learned about Specific Positive Noticing from the master educator Bob Sornson. You use this as an intervention when a kid is doing something annoying that does not yet need a consequence. This could be something like a kid being out of his seat at an inappropriate time, or talking when he shouldn’t.
There are two deadly mistakes that teachers make with these kinds of behaviors. Some teachers will think something like “well, he’s not making too big of a problem, I’ll just let it slide”. Of course, this leads to the kid then testing further: talking louder or causing some other problem that now requires even more time and effort by the teacher. From listening to your issues, I can gather that this is not the brand of mistake that you make. You overreact and get into a power struggle with the child. Feel free to try some specific positive noticing instead.
The next time a child is exhibiting a low level negative behavior, do what I do and SPN ‘em! It would look like this:
Kid #1 is nowhere near his seat and is perusing the contents of the new fairy tale book bin.
Kid Whisperer (turning to three kids doing their work): I notice how Tonia is sitting down and working hard. I notice how Austin got right down to work. I notice Daquan using his resources to find the meaning of a word.
Here’s the trick: while this is a highly effective way to get Kid #1 to stop exhibiting a low-level negative behavior, stopping the behavior is not the primary objective in your case, Eva. The primary objective is for this SPNing to calm YOU down. It makes you focus on the positive and say the positive things you see out loud. It will lower your blood pressure and make you calmer.
*Notice, that this is not praise. Praise often has some negative effects on children with trust issues. We are simply noticing positive behavior. We are never ending our positive noticing with “…and that’s great!”
Remember that this is only one skill. Keep coming back for more!
-The Kid Whisperer