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Kind AND Firm At The Same Time

by | Oct 27, 2020 | Positive Discipline Coaching Cafe | 0 comments

Today, we will discuss the most common challenge that teachers face. Often, the reason why teachers have trouble with the Positive Discipline approach, is that they’re concentrating on the kindness part so hard that they’re forgetting about being firm AT THE SAME TIME.

A lot of parents and teachers are trying to “balance” kindness and firmness because they want to be nice to the kids…..until they can’t stand their behavior…and then they decide they were “too nice” and get “firmer”…until they start to feel guilty…and go back and forth just trying to get the right balance. The KEY to PD is to use kindness and firmness at the SAME TIME. What that means is setting limits with kindness.

First of all, it has a lot to do with the teacher’s tone of voice. The tone of voice we cultivate, even while we’re doing everything else right, is often what can make or break our classroom atmosphere. Ask yourself, if you’re using a no-nonsense tone of voice. As long as it’s respectful, that’s OK to do! We can be friendly and yet no-nonsense. If when you’re speaking to the children, you sense a pleading tone or if you hear your voice constantly going up in a question even when you’re making a statement, then you need to work on being firm – a kind voice, but a firm voice. The biggest mistake is to state facts with a questioning tone.

The second piece of advice would be to check the position from where you speak to the children. You don’t plead or put yourself in a one-down situation by “being nice”. You don’t “boss” or put yourself in a one-up position by “being firm”. You work from a level, matter of fact position – and with warmth. Kids respect that position because they feel respected. If the kids are not responding to you, check your “presence.” Are you asking from a subtle one-down position, as if expecting kids to do you a favor and respond? If you pull yourself (internally) up to their level and act like you mean what you say (without meanness, yelling, but just that sense of self-confidence about what the expectations are for the room) you will get a different result. Role-play a kind but firm voice at home in front of the mirror if necessary so you can see the expression on your face when you’re speaking. Part of being a good teacher means being a good actor! Actually, the class can role-play respectful voices too. Together with kids, you can role-play a scenario using a disrespectful voice, process it, then role-play using a respectful voice and process that role-play.

One more important suggestion that will ensure your class transition to the PD. To get cooperation, involve kids usefully. As with any group, it’s wise to start with buy-in from all parties involved: put all topics of disrespectful or challenging behaviors on the class meeting agenda. Work on the classroom guidelines together, discuss with kids your expectations and reasoning, and carefully listen to theirs. Brainstorm some solutions and then, most importantly, follow them. Just as with any other class meeting agenda item, you can try the solutions for a period of time, and then, if they’re not working, bring the subject back to a meeting.

Always start your class meetings with sincere, shoulder to shoulder compliments. It has a tremendous effect on the class atmosphere and makes children (even the seemingly hard-boiled ones) sit up and try to be worthy of these honest appraisals from their mates.

Use any challenging behavior as opportunity to learn and improve.

Remember about VALIDATING FEELING, it always comes first. When children rub each other (or you) the wrong way, acknowledge their (your own) emotions, and put the “wrongs” on the agenda for discussion at the next meeting. Often you’ll find kids no longer view the “wrong” as an issue after you validated that “their feelings are significant”. The conflict goes away without any prompting, nagging, or coercion. “Bug & Wish” implementation helps to solve lots of every day “wrongs” on the spot.

If the challenging behavior still persists, put it on the meeting agenda. It helps to get lots of “suggestions” from those present (perhaps initiate some of the solutions first) about what kinds of solutions would work. There is always a lot of modeling from and following what the person in authority does. If I may be candid and admit so, often the poor/disrespectful solutions at the beginning are a reflection of the children being unused to having their opinions sought and their reflecting back to us the type of punitive stuff they’ve been hearing for a long while from us. 

Therefore, it does take time (and training) to get the children to come up with solutions that they feel are workable. The hardest part is letting go of the need to direct the proceedings – the children need to “own” their own solutions and learn that originating these solutions means being able to take it into their own hands how to ask for redress (respectfully) and what to ask for – i.e. solutions that are tailor-made to their own inner needs whilst remaining respectful to the child that has “wronged” or more accurately “hurt” them. 

Kindness means It is completely OK for a child to have his/her feelings and wants (a respectful position toward the child) and at the same time, firmness means the way a child’s need could be met always are respectful to others. The balance lies in mutual respect.

And the last but not least, remember how capable children are and how proud they feel to be capable. The little jobs that make belonging real are big day brightener. Kids do want to take responsibility and will try to discharge that to the best of their ability (although adult and children’s standards do vary, our goal is not to complete the task but to contribute to the sense of belonging and significance of the children). perhaps, you could try playing the game “who’s the boss today?” around the holidays. Teachers and kids can take turns being in charge and each day one person gets to decide what you play or what activity is next. That person also has to make sure that others’ needs are catered for as reasonably as can be, and they have to remind others what responsibilities those others have so that the day/holiday runs smoothly. They quickly realize that being the person in authority is not always easy – there are good bits but there are also tough bits – keeping firm and focused even when one doesn’t really want to do that at all. 

I think I should stop now. If it is any help – it is never easy to bring about change but this is one type of change that once the children begin to respond will make you remember all the wonderful things about being a teacher and a human being.

“Of course, it doesn’t always work out all the time and sometimes not even some of the time, but then that’s life isn’t it?” – Dr. Jane Nelson


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