Classroom Management…or Home Management

So I was dragged into an Internet spat today.  The poster posts her education advices online; you know, recommended books, parenting philosophy, etc.  There are lots of these bloggers online and the advice is most often very useful.  But some people’s come off as a bit smug.

I only mention this because I have no less than four drafts that I’ve been sitting on the last year about positive discipline.  Because I keep thinking, I’m learning just as much as the next person, what do I know?  What works to me doesn’t work for the next person.  I still yell at my kids when I get mad and give them long talks that are going in one ear and out the other.  And then there’s the fear that the writing will come off preachy as well.  (On a side note, it fascinates and confound me how people get a certain tone across in writing.  I don’t know how and if you can teach a child how to write that way.  That’s why I really like good writers like Mandarin Mama, where the posts are useful and clear, and yet often self-deprecating and friendly.)

Anyways, the spat has spurred me on to finish my post.  Because you know, I can’t sound as bad as some people even if I’m not as good as some writers right?

Rather than going on and on about philosophy and how ultimately it’s about being mindful of your behavior I will list some of the things I’ve picked up from observing teachers through my Observation class and my Positive Discipline class.  I’d read all the books and had made changes but I could never quite deal with some situations despite my best efforts.  And I really disliked those Positive Discipline books, they felt so short on concrete examples and long on why we want to be nice to our children.  I needed a script, specific things to say, dag nabbit!   Observing teachers, I have to say, was the next to final step in helping me in this aspect.

I have found these techniques to be really helpful in the home environment as well.  Some of it were tricks I’d never read about in books.  Seeing it in action was often a lightbulb moment for me.

1.  Being consistent.  I know I know.  Everyone says this.  You know how when it’s the end of the playdate and you tell your child “5 more minutes!” and then that 5 minutes turn into 15 minutes because you really really want to talk to your mommy friends.  Or your kid’s whining and it’s getting on your nerves so you speak in your low threatening voice, “If you don’t stop whining, we’re going to go home right now!” but then you really have to finish grocery shopping so you run around with a whiny and now crying-loudly-to-seemingly-spite-you kid.  Or, for me, telling the kids that, if they want to talk to me while I’m talking, they need to put their hands on my shoulder; but then I would interrupt what I’m saying and turn to talk to them, or let them interrupt me sometimes and then get mad at them at other times…..

I learned from my high school teacher friend, who visited me this summer, that being consistent is really the number 1 rule.  She had infinite patience and took her time.  By the end of her one week visit, my kids were putting their hands on her shoulder when they wanted to talk to her, and they would actually wait there for 5 minutes while she finished her conversation with me.  She let them wait rather than interrupt what she was saying before addressing them.  She gently reminded them what the rule was when they forgot.  The kids behaved as I see kids behave in a Montessori classroom!  That was a revelation to me: that it can be done in the house.

If she asked Thumper to go do something, she was not above waiting and repeating her request until it was done, always a very even but “I will keep requesting until you honor the rule” tone.  For example, once after dinner, Thumper started talking to her instead of putting her dishes away.  After I reminded Thumper, she continued to try to talk to my friend.  My friend said,

“Thumper, what did Mama say?”
“Put the dishes away.  But wait, I have a question for you….blahblahblah.”
“What did Mama say?”
Thumper continues talking.
“The dishes please.”  And then she refused to talk to Thumper and just waited until it was done.

For me, the trick was understanding that I need to stop whatever else I have going on and tend to this rule that I want them to follow, NO EXCEPTIONS.

I’m not at the super consistent level yet, but I’m definitely working towards it.  I have noticed things are much better when I remember to be consistent and then they fall apart when I don’t.

2.  Talk to them at their level when you make a request, preferably in a nice low voice.  This is sort of related to #1.  Also something I observed in the classroom.  Going back to the 5 minute example at the playground, I now stop what I’m doing, make sure I’m low and face to face with the kids, and tell them what we need to leave in 5 minutes.  Or I try not to yell across the street “No running!” every 30 seconds because they just keep running.  If I’m having a good day and am up to being consistent, I stop Thumper and Astroboy and tell them to walk instead.   But, I probably remember this only half the time because I’m too busy enjoying talking to other moms.

3.  Ask them to show you the behavior you want, immediately. In a Montessori classroom I observed a teacher say to a running child, “We walk in the classroom.  Can you please go back and show me how we walk in the classroom?”  Lightbulb.  I already knew about the “Don’t say no because a 2 year old developmentally doesn’t understand don’t” rule, but I didn’t know about the show me part.  It lets the children practice what you want them to behave.  Now, I try to finish my sentence when I request a desired behavior with “Can you show me how….”

For example, “We speak softly when we’re indoors, can you call for me again in a soft voice.” or, “We walk in the house, please go back and show me how we walk in the house”, or “We don’t throw pencils on the ground in the classroom.  Can you pick up the pencil and show me how we should put the pencil away.”  My hardest one is the talking softly one.  It never seems like the time you want them to talk softly is the time you can stop what you’re doing to teach them the rule.

Related to this rule is to word the request in terms of what you want them to do, instead of what you don’t want them to do.

Oooo, I just realized that because I keep doing point #6 now a days, I’ve forgotten about this.  Gotta go back and try it again.

4.  Just take things away without talking after you have explained the rule.   Often at dinner time, the kids bring some toy with them to play with.  I used to tell them not to, or else, and the threats are just empty because they cannot help their little hands and it always escalates.  I finally stopped doing that and told them the rule was that they cannot play with toys and if they do I will take it away.  And when they inevitably do, I take it away immediately without talking.  No talking = no whining and no arguments.  (In a way, it goes back to being consistent about enforcing the rule)

I really like doing it this way because it takes away the emotional response from me.  I don’t need to get worked up that they are not listening to me after 5000 times(!) and I’m repeating myself.   Rather, I finally realized that it is just part of a child’s tendency to want to whip that sword without really looking, or swing that bat without seeing other children, to chew whatever yucky things I don’t want them to chew, or throw that toy they shouldn’t be throwing.   Making it unavailable after explaining the rule saves me from being angry and it’s super good for my heart.

5.  Insist they answer you.  This is the newest rule I learned from our zhuyin teacher.  When she asks the children questions, she insists they answer her instead of shaking their heads or not talking.  I think it is a habit she’s trying to get the kids to adopt, to always answer the teacher’s question.  Because a teacher asks a lot of questions in the classroom.

“Do you want to color?”  你要畫畫嗎?
The child shakes her head or doesn’t answer.
“Do you want to color, yes or no?”  你要畫畫嗎?好還是不好
They shake their head or doesn’t answer again.
“Do you want to color, you can say yes or no.” 你要畫畫嗎?你可以說好還是不好
They shake their head again.
“Yes (pause) or no (pause)”.  好,不好  Nod and shake head.  Repeat until they answer.

6. Ask lots of questions.  I learned this from my positive discipline and classroom management class.  I’d read about it but I wasn’t really able to do it until I saw it in action at my friend’s house.  Basically instead of saying, “Put the dishes away after dinner,” or “Put your shoes away,” you can ask questions.  “What do we do after we eat dinner?” “What is the first thing we do when we come home?”

Along with being more consistent, this new way of talking helps me not have high blood pressure.   And I use it a lot now a days.  It really cuts down on the commanding tone I tend to use.  I don’t know how effective it is in making children remember what they’re supposed to do because ultimately it’s a form of reminding.  So sometimes I bypass it by having a talk before hand, rather than after they’ve done something they are not supposed to do.

7.  Point instead of speak.  The How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk had a whole bunch of ideas.  I only really remember this one.  So related to #5, sometimes I don’t say anything other than, “Thumper, (point to shoes).”  It works to switch it up a bit.

8.  Whisper instead of yell.  I visited a Montessori classroom once of an AMI trained teacher.  I had never seen a classroom so quiet because students are busy working by themselves and then speaking in a soft voice to each other.  I don’t think the teacher really nags them to talk this way.  She just models herself by speaking barely above a whisper, all the time!   Me with my loud voice, it’s a really hard thing to do.  But I do it when I really want to get Thumper or Astroboy’s‘ attention.  They get very used to me speaking louder and louder and have learned to tune me out.  And often it works wonders when I resort to a whisper.  When you whisper children really have to strain and pay attention to hear you.

9.  Model instead of asking.   Totally specific to Grace and Courtesy and I can’t help talking about it.  I don’t know if this really works with elementary children, when the habit can be ingrained already.  But now it kind of annoys me (yes I’m judgmental) when I see preschool teacher tell (and not ask) children, “Say thank you” “Say bye”, “Say please.”  There is a whole chapter or two in Montessori’s writing about the will of the children and cultivating that will that opened my mind up about the whole saying Thank You and Sorry thing.

I try to ask questions instead (“What can we say when someone gives us a gift?”) but even as I do that I’m kicking myself.  Because it seems that I’m setting the kids up to be reminded before they say “Thank You”.  And ultimately it is forcing the kids to say something rather than helping them say it out of their own will.  So when I remember, I just say it for them in a sing song voice.  I say a lot of Thank You’s at Trader Joe’s as they get stickers every visit.

This rule is something I mightily struggle with.  I want the children to speak nicely to me, but I’m not speaking nicely to them, and eventually they throw my own words back at me.  I know I need to model some of the behaviors I want in them.  It’s worse when I don’t get enough sleep.  I just can’t be mindful and at that point I don’t care!  I just need them to listen and do as I say now so I can get everyone to bed ASAP.

10.  Lastly, it takes practice, especially when you’re speaking in Chinese.  A friend told me once that she finds that she has no trouble using Please or being affectionate in English by using words like “Honey” when addressing her child, but had a hard time in Chinese.  I totally agree.  I think the kitchen Chinese I heard growing up had a lot of commands and must dos, rather than requests.  Or, it had requests that are implied rather than straight up asked.  It’s something I still struggle with when talking to Baba.   I would say things like, “The laundry needs to be hung”, when I really mean to ask him to please hang the laundry.  I remember when I first had to use the word share in Chinese.  My mommy friends and I were asking each other, “Share is 分享 right?  Is this how you say it in Chinese?“  Because we didn’t know! It sounded so strange to say to the kids, “你們要分享. (You need to share).”

For #3 above (asking children what you want them to do instead of not do), I actually had to hear it said a few times in English before I could translate it in Chinese and learn the “formula”.   Now I know to keep saying, “我們 (we) blahblah blah“, like “我們用走的.” “我們看到阿姨可以說什麼?“  Similarly, it took me awhile to get a hang of saying this instead of  saying “No”, or “Don’t do xx,” without feeling like the words are tripping over each other.

Ooo, I had 10 points to make!  Should I make the title of my post something more clickable like “10 ways to get your kids to listen to you?”  Apparently this is a page view  trick, to have those counters in the title.

I think I need to go to bed now before I get super cranky tomorrow and yell at the kids.


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