Have you ever visited your child’s classroom and wondered how the teacher maintains order among so many children, when you can’t even get your two at home to mind? Realize your dream of jackets hung up, toys shared and children sitting quietly at the dinner table by following these ten classroom tips that work at home too.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t rank discipline as their number one priority. “Discipline is paramount. You can’t run a classroom without it,” says Barbara Yeamans, a third-grade teacher from California.
1. Discuss the Rules
“On the first day of school, I outline the basic rules,” says Barbara, “I also let students brainstorm to create a class mission statement.” She finds there is a greater inclination for children to want to behave when they feel part of the rule-making and discipline policies.
Julie Dill, Moore Public Schools board-certified teacher and MetroFamily Education Columnist agrees. “It’s important to allow children to become active participants while establishing the rules,” says Julie. “Ask them for ideas and give them a chance to express why they feel their idea is important.”
Parent Plan. With children who are old enough to reason, discuss what kind of behavior would help your household run best. Draw responses out of them. Asking “What will happen if you’re always running in the house?” might cause them to consider the accident that is bound to eventually happen. This will prove more effective than your reprimand of “Stop running in the house!” which, with no discussion, is destined to fall on deaf ears each time.
2. Post a Plan
“If you review the day’s schedule first thing in the morning, it often eliminates the uncertainty of what’s to come,” says Julie.
“A plan is essential,” adds fourth grade teacher Patty Corrigan. “Not only does it give structure to the day but it calms a child to know what is coming up next.” She lists the order of activities on a white board for students to reference: Reading, 9:00am. Math, 10:00am. Recess, 10:45am. If she forgets to write something down, the children often remind her to add it to the list.
Parent Plan. Outline your daily and weekly plans on a calendar or dry-erase board in the kitchen. It’ll help your household have an idea of what’s coming up next whether it’s a piano lesson at 4:00pm, soccer game at 5:30pm or a visit to Grandma’s house on Sunday. Let your kids add stickers or draw pictures on the schedule. Everyone will feel more comfortable having a general idea of what to expect.
3. Create Routines
“Everything runs more smoothly with firm routines in place,” says Lori Anapoell, a literacy teacher. When children know what to do and when to do it, fewer behavior issues crop up and independence is fostered.
Parent Plan. Identify the tasks you expect your children to complete everyday, and walk them through the steps to be specific about what is expected of them.
“Children crave structure and order,” says Julie. “A bedtime procedure could be as simple as: brush teeth, change into pajamas, quiet reading time.” Walk children through the steps (how much toothpaste to use, where to put their dirty clothes, how much time is available for reading). “When this becomes a habit, less energy is spent on repeated reminders.”
4. Switch Gears Slowly
Switching from one task to another can be difficult for kids who tend to get absorbed in what they are doing. “Ease into a transition slowly,” cautions Lori. She often counts down, advising students they have a few minutes left before they need to stop one activity and start another.
Julie agrees. “When moving from one activity to another, it’s important to keep children engaged. A song or chant can be helpful, keeping children focused on something positive can often eliminate bad behavior,” says Julie.
Parent Plan. If your child is busy coloring, don’t suddenly tell her to drop everything and go take a bath. Instead tell her bathtime is in ten minutes and she’ll need to finish her drawing and begin putting her crayons away soon. Set a kitchen timer and remind her again when time is almost up.
5. Use Signals
Unspoken cues that help focus a child’s attention, and redirect them to new tasks or away from questionable behavior are invaluable to teachers. “I raise my hand in the air and display fingers in a one, two, three count until I have their attention,” says Barbara. Some teachers tap out a few notes on a xylophone or tinkle a bell to elicit students’ response without ever having to say a word.
Parent Plan. Come up with some nonverbal prompts such as a few notes on a harmonica or flicking the light switch to let your children know when it’s time to settle down, clean up or even come to the table for dinner. Find something you’re comfortable with, use it consistently and give your voice a rest!
6. Reward Good Behavior
“Verbal praise helps build confidence, reminds children of expectations and promotes good decisions for the right reasons,” says Julie. Instead of constantly harping on students’ shortcomings, education professionals prefer to practice positive reinforcement.
“When I would see a child picking up trash on the playground or displaying good manners at lunchtime, I’d hand them a ticket from my good guy basket,” says Dr. Susan Mahler, a retired principal and former kindergarten teacher. “The goal was to collect five tickets and earn a special reward such as an extra recess.”
Parent Plan. When your child picks up her toys or clears her plate from the table without prompting, recognize her efforts. Say “Good job!” Every so often reward her good behavior with something more tangible such as a small toy. Praise the things she does right so she’ll do them again.
7. Stay a Step Ahead
Recognizing and heading off potential problems is what teachers do best. “When I have a student who is too chatty, I’ll seat her with quiet, focused kids,” says Lori. “I’ve given some real fidgety kids a squishy ball to squeeze while I teach a lesson and some have even been allowed to chew gum. It makes a huge difference in their behavior.”
Parent Plan. Identify the times your child is likely to misbehave and prepare strategies to avert the problem. If she’s prone to meltdowns in the supermarket, have some crackers or a book on hand. Or put her in charge of placing items in the cart. Staying one step ahead and preventing problems from happening in the first place is what effective discipline is really all about—both in and out of school.
More Tricks of the Trade:
How to get kids to:
- Sit still. If your child won’t sit still at the dinner table, point to other family members who are quietly seated. “Always model appropriate behavior and if you can use another child to illustrate, all the better,” says teacher Patty Corrigan.
- Pay attention. Wait to speak until your child stops what she is doing and focuses her eyes on you. Teacher Barbara Yeamans says, “One, Two, Three—Eyes on me” To which her students are trained to respond, “One, Two—Eyes on you.”
- Stop Tattling. Create a tattle box where kids can drop in messages or pictures about a sibling’s or another child’s wrong-doing. “This gives kids some satisfaction of ‘telling’ without you having to listen,” says Teacher Lori Anapoell.
Freelance writer June Allan Corrigan is a former kindergarten teacher who has used these tactics on her own two children with great success.