How to Keep Classroom Items From Becoming a Distraction

Dear Kid Whisperer,

How do you allow kids to use a fidget toy in class as long as it doesn’t become a problem? If it does become a problem, how would you suggest letting them know it’s now a problem and they can’t use it? I have been studying Love and Logic™, so I know to use an enforceable statement: “I allow students to use fidgets as long as they don’t become a problem…” but I don’t know how to end the statement. -Ruby, San Diego, California


Your enforceable statement is complete already. It’s perfect. Now let’s put it in context of other interventions, and a consequence.

You should use your excellent statement one time per year: “I allow students to use fidgets as long as they don’t become a problem.”

After that, if kids cause a problem with their fidget toy (or any other item that has become an issue), you can use one of the 43 interventions I teach at my conferences or my in-school PD workshops. We’ll get to those in a second. If the interventions (you can try as many as you feel like doing) don’t get you positive behavior (proper, non-problem causing use of the fidget) you can use a “final intervention” and/or a delayed consequence. Here are some sample interventions. Choose only the ones you like.

1) Confused Eye: Look at the kid who is improperly using the fidget with a tilted head and a furrowed brow, like you are confused. This creates thinking while separating the kid from the behavior: It says to the kid, “You are so smart and wonderful, what are you doing? I’m confused.”

2) Request Thinking: Touch your index finger to your temple and say, “Think.” After you have done this in your room a couple of times, you can stop verbally saying “think” and only point at your temple.

3) A Question: Again, you have set this up with your Enforceable Statement: “Who do I allow to have fidgets?”

4) Your question can be a gateway intervention to your final intervention, a Problem Stimulus Removal. After asking your question, you can take the fidget. Say, “Oh, dear” as you take the problem stimulus.

Use of the final intervention should be enough to train up most kids and will supercharge your interventions. This is what I would say to the kid if these interventions didn’t get positive behaviors after the first time. I can wait hours (PK or K), days (K-2nd ), or even a week or so (3rd and up) later, and then have this conversation during non-instructional time:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. You are really struggling with not causing a problem with your fidget. I only allow students to have fidgets if they can not cause a problem while using them. How long do you need to practice holding a fidget without causing a problem: for 30 minutes or 40 minutes?

Kid: This is stupid.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. 40 minutes it is. I will like you no matter how long it takes you to become an expert, non-problem-causing user of fidgets. You can start practicing whenever you are ready. I will start counting your practice time as soon as you are practicing. Good luck!

He can read a book or do anything that doesn’t cause a problem during that time that does not involve technology. He cannot continue with anything else during non-instructional time until he practices successfully.

Practice makes perfect, and perfect practice can produce kids that are pleasant to be around. Train them now in the fall, so you are not annoyed by your students all year long.