One day I met a parent in the school who asked me “how do you manage discipline and children’s behavior in the class?” Her question made me think – as an individual am I disciplining children or even my own little daughter who is less than 2 years…… Often I get upset with her “behavior”. As I thought about my little one, I felt like I am sinking in the sea of gallons of thoughts and emotions. But here are some points that kept floating to the surface my mind. They are sort of in a logical order, but also all inter-related. The origin may be the kind of parenting I received, the schools I attended, reading and research and of course, experience.
I am not in love with the terms “management” and “behavior”. In this context; both have connotations that make me uncomfortable. (The usage of vocab – right words, right context and right time- this seems like another post, for another day) I feel that these words are too heavy for the little ones who are still in the process of exploring themselves and their surroundings. And probably that’s THE reason they end up doing something that’s annoying for so called “ADULTS”.
What is a “problem behavior.?” A behavior is ONLY a problem if it interferes with a child’s safety and learning or the safety and learning of others. Period! A behavior that is annoying to me cannot automatically become a problem. Hey… just think on that for a minute. How often have you reprimanded or disciplined a child for doing something that was annoying you? I’m embarrassed to say how often I have done just that even with my little one (let’s be clear – I am far from perfect in all this….). However, with this definition, a whole bunch of things will STOP being problems — wiggling, slouching in a chair; looking at the ceiling during a story, sitting on their knees instead of their bottoms; — these all cannot be problems unless and until it becomes obvious that these things are dangerous or detrimental to learning.
Manage children as individuals, not as a group. Some of my observations as a class teachers – Jayant concentrates better sitting on a chair than on the floor; so why not allow a chair for him at story time. Others have no problem on the floor. Maya struggles to keep her hands to herself. She can choose a fidget toy during whole group instruction. When you really get to know your students, you know that EVERY child has “special needs.” When the children understand what “fair” means, you can meet those needs without worrying about accusations of favoritism. (Although, sometimes, you have to teach parents and colleagues what “fair” means, too.)
Just as students ask for help with their school work, they need to know it is okay to ask for help with their behavior too. If the child feels that he will do better in line by walking with me, he can. If another one can’t stop chatting with neighbor, I will help her find a place to work alone. Holding my hand, sitting alone, are NOT punishments: I don’t present them as punishments, and I work hard to change the kids’ perception of punishment. These are choices and tools that help children be their best selves.
Look for patterns. If I am constantly correcting the same behavior from the same child at the same time in the same spot : is there a way to break the pattern? If there is pushing in the lineup to wash hands EVERY DAY, how can I change the lineup routine? Can I give them more space? Send some to the bathroom? Make the line go faster? Give them something to do while they wait? Sometimes, changing the pattern means changing what I think I know about something.
Don’t have “systems.”, have relationships. As I re-read these now, it is that simple. There cannot be a single system or routine that can be universally applied to every child at all times in all situations. What works for one does not work for another and makes things even worse for a third.
I know few readers may think that it is so simple to put all this on paper but implementing this will be so very difficult. I don’t have an answer for those people. For me, these truths simply work. I don’t know if they will work for you, too. I would, however, challenge you to try just one of them. Re-define problematic behavior. Find and change a pattern. Focus on your relationship with a challenging child. And then, please, come back here and let me know how it went.
Ms. Gouri Samant