One of the most common questions I have been asked in my nearly ten years of working with children in the elementary school setting is, “How do you control your kids, and what is your secret?”
I think the word “control” isn’t the best word to use and looking at it from that perspective could be one of the reasons why some of us struggle or find it challenging to manage behavior with our students and children. I don’t see it as a control. Instead, I see it as a level of mutual respect and credibility that enables me to lead students and minimize behavior issues, so I can devote more of my energy and time to teaching lessons and being a positive role model for the children I work with.
I like to use the “wall” analogy. Imagine you, the teacher and adult, as a wall. Children will subconsciously and frequently try pushing that wall to test and see if they can move it, and if so, they will test how far they can move it. This subconscious behavior isn’t malicious. There’s a psychology behind it since our brains are designed to protect us, so assessing and analyzing our surroundings, including others such as authority figures, helps provide the mind with helpful information to help ensure our survival. And so, children will push the wall (you) to see if it moves. If the walls shift, they will realize that one, they have the power to move the wall, and two, they’ll wonder how much further they can push that wall and will continue to experiment. However, if the wall remains firm, and this sometimes takes far longer than we might like, the student will realize that pushing the wall is a waste of time and will know to respect it. This serves as the basis for establishing mutual respect between the student and teachers, allowing us to focus more freely on educating our students.
Here are some tips that you may find helpful:
- Friendly instead of friends: - We all want our students and children to like us, and it’s great when we feel that with them, but we can remind ourselves that our role in their lives isn’t to be their friends. Our part is to be an authority figure, a leader, a teacher, and for some, a parent. When we create and maintain this boundary, our students and children will not see us as one of their peers but as someone who expects their respect and will receive it in return.
- It’s okay to say “no”: This is tough. I don’t like to disappoint my students or see their sad faces when I must decline something, but being comfortable with saying no, reprimanding them, or sometimes disappointing our students when necessary is an integral part of creating a level of respect and credibility. Saying “yes” to every request to not disappoint them can lead to behavioral issues since they know most, if not all, of their requests, even not-so-good ones, will be allowed.
- Consistency: Of all these tips, I would like to emphasize the most important one is being consistent and fair with our choices and behaviors. When we are consistent and unwavering in our expectations and intentions, students will notice this and may feel that they can trust it. This forms a level of stability that can set their minds and ease so they can focus on remaining on task.
Putting in the hard work to establish mutual respect with our students and children can be invaluable. Rather than engaging in arguments or frequently engaging with problematic behaviors in the classroom or at home, we can model for our children what boundaries are and show them that we can be trusted people in their lives who hold their best interests in mind. I hope my tips can help you as a teacher, a parent, or both. One of the greatest feelings in the world as a teacher is looking at your students in the class who are all on task and with smiles on both their faces and yours.
Author: Moises Duarte