For many years I had the honor of interacting with a variety of school districts in my role as a Registered Dietitian. During that time, I often attended school board meetings to better understand the culture, needs, and obstacles facing each of the school district’s I interacted with. Despite the late nights the long board meetings would often create, I loved getting a glimpse into the remarkable impact teachers make in our communities. My most enjoyable moments at those meetings by far were the awards segment and the teacher presentation segment.
During the awards, which usually occurred nearly first thing after a few announcements and a pledge of allegiance, students would be recognized for their hard work and achievements. The students would often invite their favorite adults to be in the audience, so the room would be packed while the hum of many whispering excited voices would loom. The pride that would radiate from their adult bodies as their young loved one stood up in front of the room was powerful. As soon as they were recognized the student he or she would start glowing from the positive attention and the energy it created in the room was inspiring.
During the teacher presentation segment any number of topics might be addressed from a new teaching technique, to a request for funding, or an update on an ongoing project. One evening in particular I will never forget. A pair of teachers began discussing their method for behavior change. What struck me the most was its simplicity in application but brilliance in result. If a child had made an ineffective behavior choice the teacher would calmly address the situation by saying something like, “I see you made the decision to throw trash on the floor. Hmmm, tell me about that.” (Wait, listen, no strong judgement) Then, the following up question was along the lines of, “How might you make a different choice next time?”
In a matter of seconds, the teacher helped the child realize he or she made a choice with that behavior or reaction and there were other choices or reactions he or she could have made. It also allowed the child to play out other solutions to whatever problem or situation they were facing. It allowed them to create a path in their brain that practiced the problem solving needed to make a different choice next time. Brilliant! The teacher did not give them the “right answer,” or just scold them for making an ineffective behavior choice.
I decided to practice this approach with my two children. It was frustrating in the beginning. My daughter often replied first with, “I don’t know!” when asked to verbalize a different choice she could make next time. It took time on my part to remain patient while she articulated another option. I stood my ground and we would not fully move on from the conversation until an effective behavior option could be established. At times, if emotions were just too high at that exact moment, we might agree to take a breather and come back and discuss the alternative path a few minutes later. Over time this process got easier.
The results have been extremely effective for both parties. From time to time, when I would stop and ask them to tell me a bit about why they made a choice I had not been pleased with, their response would shock me. It might call attention to an ineffective choice I had made that influenced the situation and it gave me an opportunity to acknowledge my own shortcomings. It is powerful for a child to see an adult make amends and verbalize a way to make a better choice next time as well.
I am still so inspired by the love and impact our teachers make on the lives of so many children. I was grateful to those long nights at school board meetings where I got just a taste of it. The school years are the ones that truly develop the character of our future generations, not just the academic skills. I encourage you to give this behavior guidance technique a try to see if it can make a difference with your family as well.