How to Help Your Student Learn a Life Lesson

Dear Kid Whisperer,

What do I do when I have a fifth-grade student who refuses to comply with a consequence? -Mary, Kettering, Ohio


You rejoice!

Let me explain.

Some kids arrive at school not needing to learn many lessons about life. Their parents are already teaching them all or most of what they need to know about responsibility, respect, and the like. These students generally will not cause problems for themselves or for you because they have already tried that at home, and their parents have taught them that these behaviors don’t get them what they want.

Other students, as you are aware, need to learn positive lessons about the way the world works at school, because those lessons are not being taught, or not being taught effectively, at home. You can identify these students because they try out all kinds of obnoxious behaviors to get what they want.

The great thing about these students is that the lessons they need to learn will be revealed to you by which anti-social behaviors they choose to use.

Let’s say you have a fifth-grader who has chosen to talk incessantly while he was supposed to be listening to your instruction. He has revealed to you and the world that he presently struggles with being quiet and listening. I would handle this by quickly whispering to him that I was going to do something about his talking later, and that he should not let it ruin his day.

Later, perhaps a week later, I would say the following during a non-instructional time (not in front of his peers) that is convenient for me.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. Dude. Last week when you kept talking loudly when I was trying to teach, that pretty much made it impossible for me to do my job.

Kid: SO?!?!

Kid Whisperer: For the sake of me, you, and everyone else in class, it is a requirement that everyone be able to listen to instruction and not be distracted, and therefore, it is also a requirement that everyone be experts at not distracting others. Right now, you struggle with this. I have this instructional video of how to do improper fractions. Do you need to silently watch this for 25 minutes to show that you are an expert at listening quietly, or do you need to do it for thirty minutes?

Kid: This is stupid.

Kid Whisperer: Okey dokey. 30 minutes is fine. You are currently seated and listening quietly, so I am starting practice time right… now. As long as you are seated quietly, we will continue this practice session. Do anything but sit quietly, and that will tell me you need more practice, and we will start the thirty minutes over. This is your spot every recess and lunch for the rest of the year until you achieve expert status at quietly not disrupting. Good luck!

At that point, the student will be making a choice about which lessons he needs to learn. If he is immediately cooperative and practices successfully for 30 minutes, he is telling you that he only needed to learn that lesson.

If he refuses, gets angry, and starts yelling, he is telling you that he needs to learn an additional lesson: that being a belligerent, mean jerk won’t get him what he wants. Here is where you should rejoice that your student will be learning two lessons instead of one. Chances are he has not yet learned this lesson at home. He can learn that lesson by you not reacting and still holding him accountable whenever he finishes his tantrum.

Using this strategy tells the student the following message:

I care about you enough to calmly teach you lessons about how life works.

By utilizing consequences in this way, you can build your relationship with your student through their negative behavior!