Managing Children with Choices

Hello everyone!  It’s been forever ago since I last had the chance to sit down and write!  But the other day in class, my lecturer brought up an interesting topic that I didn’t want to miss:  managing children with choices.  It immediately reminded me of a dear little girl whom I know… and a story that I’d like to share with you.

I once taught a sweet little girl who was in every sense a perfect student.  She participated in everything I planned into the lesson; she paid attention… most of the time.  She did her work quietly and thoroughly, and she enjoyed our lessons together.  But she did have one small problem:  when I gave instructions, sometimes she would simply refuse to obey them.  It put me in a somewhat bewildering position.  What was I to do?  She would plain refuse to obey!  “All right, now let’s take out our colour pencils and pick a blue one.”  And she would simply look at me and shake her head.  When I repeated myself, thinking that perhaps she did not understand, she would say in the cutest defiant tone I have ever heard, “Tsk, Teacher.”  And then she would turn our attention to something else, ask to play with my sponge letters or tell me she needed a drink of water.

After it had happened a few times, I saw the pattern in her tactics and started to put my brains to work, looking for a solution.  Because I only saw her once a week, I did not know details that might have shed light on why she responded that way.  But as I observed her, it soon became clear to me that the problem was not that the tasks I was assigning were too difficult.  Rather, it was a sense of wanting some autonomy—wanting to have some say in what happened around her. She wanted a sense of control over what was going on around her.  And when she could not get it, she became hard to manage.

Once I understood, she instantly became easier to manage; over the week that followed before her next lesson, I had a private think-tank.  By the next lesson, I was ready for her.

About halfway through the lesson… “Alllllllllll right! Now let’s take out our pencils.  It’s time to practise writing on paper!”  No response.  She just looked at me.  “N—, do you have your pencil?  Let’s get it out!”  Still no response.  She glanced out the window and over at the shelf where we keep toys.  Then I tried my tactic:  “It’s more fun to play, isn’t it?  We can’t play all day, but I’ll tell you what.  I’ll let you choose when you want to play.  Do you want to finish our writing practice first and then play for ten minutes, or do you want to play for ten minutes and then come back and practise?”  It was a gamble (what if she decided to play first and refused to keep the second part of the bargain?!).

She voted to play first.  After ten minutes, which I used a paper clock to help her measure, I called time and reminded her of her choice.  To my surprised pleasure, she promptly helped me clear up the toys, got back to the table and picked up her pencil.  It proved the point:  when they can control their circumstances, they are easier to manage!

This newsletter is long enough as is; I’ll continue next time with a few pointers and things to remember.

Until then, thank you for reading!  I”ll see you next time!


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