As a teacher, I loved a good field trip, especially one to the theater. As part of the day’s participation grade, I would require theater-going students to dress up (i.e., shirt tucked in, wear a belt, no holey jeans, preferably no jeans at all). Aside from getting to share the fun of attending a performance, I loved theater field trips because the students were automatically better behaved. It’s both wonderful and surreal to see a farty freshman boy holding the door open for someone and walking about like a normal person. (You do understand the normal ambulatory manner of a fourteen-year-old boy can best be described as a galumph, right?) It happens at prom, too. Well, until the dancing starts. Don’t make me remember the “dancing”.
Naturally, there are limitations to this. A fussy baby in a tuxedo is still a fussy baby. Maybe even a screaming baby. But for older kids, I swear it works.
2. Avoid humiliating a child whenever possible.
Nothing good will ever come of it. All it does is teach the child to humiliate others and to resent you. When I was teaching I did as much discipline as I could with a whisper, a brief conversation behind my desk, a one-on-one conference right outside the door, or with a post-it note discreetly placed on a desk as I patrolled the room.
All people want to save face, children included. Besides, you’re just a bully if you use your power over a child to humiliate him or her (on purpose).
3. The hallway tactic
There’s a very popular classroom management book called Teaching With Love and Logic (and there’s also a parenting version called Parenting With Love and Logic). With a lot of success, I used the book’s major strategy. To avoid humiliating the child, to avoid a power struggle, and to avoid letting the child evade acknowledging his or her mistake, you follow these steps.
- When a conflict begins, refuse to participate in front of the entire class and ask the student to step out into the hallway.
- When you’ve collected your thoughts and can be non-emotional, step out into the hall for a brief conference. Ask the child why he or she thinks you were angry/upset/whatever.
- If the child understands that what he or she did was wrong and apologizes, step back in and move on (but not if this is a repeat offense - in that case, more severe action is needed).
- If the child says “I dunno” or some variation of this, calmly say, “Well, I’m going to go back in and teach the class while you think about it some more. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
- Almost always, the child is ready to admit his or her mistake and apologize by the second time you go out to the hallway.
4. When something boosts a child’s self-esteem and gives him/her joy, do not take it away as punishment.
If only I had a dime for every parent-teacher conference I sat in where the parent threatened to take an extracurricular activity away if the child didn’t start doing his or her homework. First of all, this is not a logical consequence. Secondly, kids don’t not do their homework because they love a subject and feel confident in their ability to master it. Taking away an activity a child feels successful at only digs the down-on-myself hole deeper. More logical consequences would be going to a tutor, not being allowed to watch tv/play video games/play outside/do much of anything until all homework is done. If the child is lying about homework, then honesty is one of the issues in play here, and the consequences should also be geared toward demonstrating that trust is important. Leave the area of life that the kids feels like a winner in out of it.
5. You never know when something you say will forever be etched into a child’s consciousness.
If you give it some thought, you’ll realize that the things adults said to you when you were a kid that stuck with you probably weren’t things the adult planned out to be what you would stow away with you for the rest of your life. This means that you’ve always got to be very careful about what you say. The exceptions to the you-never-know deal are saying things like “You’re just not very good at math” or “You have ugly feet.” People remember stuff like that 100% of the time.
What about you? How did your career prepare you for parenthood?