How to Deal with a Student Who Refuses to Comply with a Consequence

Dear Kid Whisperer,

What if a child refuses to comply with logical consequences?

Here is a situation that comes up frequently: the student just says that they didn’t do it. For example, when I am attempting to start my middle school class and a wad of paper flies across the room I continue with the lesson until such time as I can set them upon an activity or some reading assignment. I then I address the issue with the student. The conversation looks like this:

Me: So _____________, I noticed that you were throwing paper across the room earlier when I was introducing the lesson. I…

Student: It wasn’t me.

Me: Hmm, well my eyes are telling me a different story. I was wondering if you could…

Student: I didn’t do it.

Me: As I was saying, I was wondering if you could go over, sometime during the period here, and pick up that paper and put it where it belongs…

Student: I ain’t pickin up no paper cause it wasn’t me.

Me: (assumed compliance) Thank you for picking it up, I appreciate the respect you have for our classroom.

Student: (as I walk away) whatever (or, regularly, #$%@ you &^%* this I ain’t doin &*&$. *&$% this school you ^%$&ing ^&%&)

End result: paper remains on floor, student receives a detention for refusal to follow a reasonable request. (I am loathe to give detentions, but the rest of the students must see that there is some sort of consequence, even if it is not the one I wanted to happen…) Student usually skips detention so they receive ISS. What does the Kid Whisperer recommend for this type of situation?   -Kwame, Dayton, Ohio


OK, good news, bad news, good news:

Good News: you did a lot of things right in dealing with this situation. Not whipping around and getting into an immediate power struggle was the first landmine sidestepped.

Good News: If what you are doing is ineffective, then you can change what you are doing in order to control this kid and make him compliant.

What I would encourage you to do, and this may seem small but it’s really huge, is to not even get into any tiny bit of an argument or “he said, he said”. “My eyes are telling me a different story” is an absolute killer. Once that is said, the kid has won because
a) he has gotten you to argue with him and
b) he is now leading you down a road that ends with you asking him to do something that you can’t make him do, thereby handing him all the power in the situation.

When you say this, you give him the opportunity to make you look weak by simply saying “no”. I wouldn’t say the words “I was wondering if you could…” to a kid for all the tea in China. Instead I use the Love and Logic(R) skills of delaying consequences and neutralizing arguments. I would handle the situation like this:

Kid throws paper across the room. I ignore it and wait for the class to end. The kid is leaving.

Kid Whisperer (with a smile): Feel free to come back to this class as soon as that paper is picked up off the floor. Some kids choose too pick up the paper when kids are in class and some choose to pick up the paper while no other kids are in the room.

Kid: I didn’t do it.

Kid Whisperer: Respect you to much to argue.

It wasn’t me.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. This is sad. I’m going to have to do something about this. But not now, later. Try not to worry about it.

I walk away while smiling, or looking at my phone, or yawning, or all three.

Kid: I ain’t picking it up cause it wasn’t me.

Kid Whisperer:(Still looking at my phone) I know. Thanks!

Then, at my convenience, I arrange for this student to be in another room, perhaps an ISS room only during my class until the paper has been picked up. When the child finally complies, he is met with a sincere, private “I’m glad you’re back.” Under no circumstances will I ruin our training session with a lecture of the “I hope you learned your lesson” variety. This would negate all of the learning that has just happened.

Disclaimer: This will not work if it is done with anger and without empathy. Keep in mind though that it is a lot easier to avoid anger when we are able to avoid an argument and when we don’t have to figure out a consequence in the moment.

In short, when you do things the Love and Logic(R) way, you don’t have to deal with the situation in the moment, but your student does!!!! That’s a huge shift from the way you dealt with it originally. In you original scenario, your student framed the conversation so that you were having to do all of the thinking and problem solving, while he just sat back and said “no!”

This is what I call “flipping it”: using skills to take the control from the student. Love and Logic teachers don’t ask for the control, we take it, in a loving way.

Feel free to experiment with this new way of doing things. Good luck!

The Kid Whisperer