Recently, on a really busy day I stopped for a quick lunch at a local diner. The hustle and bustle of the restaurant was almost overwhelming. The noises of the plates clattering as they were put in the sink to soak. The sounds of all the people talking, the chairs screeching the tile as they moved back and forth, the music playing over the PA system. It was crowded and as I scanned the restaurant looking for a place to sit there was only one seat open. It was near the door to the kitchen. I took my seat. Bam! The kitchen door opened and slammed against the wall. I picked up the menu. Crash! Something fell in the kitchen. The menu seemed as thick as a short novel.
The menu had 2 pages of appetizers, 4 pages for breakfast foods, 4 pages for lunch foods, 4 pages for dinner specials, 5 pages for desserts because pictures were included, 4 more pages for all the different types of drinks, 2 pages for vegan options, and a page for gluten free foods. Just as I was getting to the section of lunch foods another crash in the kitchen diverted my attention for a minute. A toddler screamed at the other end of the restaurant. I focused my attention back to the menu just as the waitress appeared. She laid down silverware and a glass of water, then asked if I knew what I wanted. When I said, “No,” she asked if I at least knew what I wanted to drink? Again, I had to say, “No.” She walked away in a huff.
Again, I turned my attention to the menu. Quickly I found the lunch foods and decided I wanted a salad and soup. When I finally made it to the drinks page, my favorite soda was listed as a choice. Just as I had decided my food and drink, Bam! The kitchen door swung open again hitting the wall. At this point I really considered leaving as it was all getting to be too much but I needed to eat and felt I didn’t have a choice but to stay.
The waitress came back and I could tell she was agitated which made me nervous. She asked if I knew what I wanted. I ordered my salad, soup, and drink. She then asked me if I wanted fries with that. I said, “No.” She pushed and said, “Come on, don’t you want fries with that?” Before I could even answer again, she said, “You know you want fries, if you take the fries I’ll give you free ice cream.” What was happening? Was I in the Twilight Zone? I had been asked a question and had given my answer. I answered, “No, thank you,” this time and then she got mad at me! She said, “Fine, you don’t want the fries, then you don’t get dessert either, even if you wanted to pay for it!” Before she walked away she took my spoon!
I was completely shocked and bewildered! I did not understand what happened, I began to feel angry. The stress of the restaurant and then this woman’s attitude toward me was more than I could handle. I quickly stood up to leave and when I did, I knocked the table with my leg and it toppled over. I yelled because I was surprised and it hurt a little. Suddenly, I was surrounded by several restaurant workers. They were trying to grab my hands, were telling me to calm down, and someone grabbed my leg. It was chaotic and scary.
Does this sound ridiculous to you or is it just me? Does it sound like I am the problem in the story? The story you just read is made up but based on actual events that happen in classrooms and homes every day. Classrooms and home lives are busy and sometimes overwhelming. Think about how a classroom could be the setting instead of a restaurant. Replace the kitchen noises and distractions with that of a classroom filled with students in a building with even more students. Replace the menu with a textbook, the waitress with the teacher, and the table with a desk. Replace the adult with a child who is being told by adults to calm down and having their hands and feet grabbed to secure them. Replace your home with all of the above.
We have a bad habit of asking our kids/students to behave or asking them to complete a task. When a person is asked something (Do you want fries with that?) there is the implied option to say No. However, when a child/student is asked to perform a task (Don’t you want to eat your dinner? Don’t you want to go to grandma’s? Don't you want to complete your writing assignment?, etc) we are not expecting them to say no. When they do say No, we resort to bribery or getting angry at them. This is wrong. It is not wrong because they didn’t do what we wanted but because we gave them a choice assuming they would choose “correctly.”
I firmly believe that there is a better way. In my parenting days I learned of this technique and I utilized it with my child. In my teaching days I used it with my students and taught the idea to several paraprofessionals and other teachers. We all saw success and fewer outbursts from the children in our care. It is a simple approach but one that takes a little forethought, being able to remain calm, and sometimes a little thinking on your feet. The first option is to tell your child/student the directive of what you want them to do. For example, instead of saying something like “James, do you want to go to recess?” say, “James, it is time to line up for recess.” Or, “Henry, can you hand me that block?” say, “Henry, hand me that block.” If Henry or James refuses then repeat the directive, but keep the same tone as the first time and remain calm. (I know this isn’t going to work every time, but that discussion is for another time.)
The second option is to have two choices that you would be happy with no matter which one the child chooses. For example, “James, do you want to line up to go to recess?” could be worded, “James, do you want me to pick where you line up or do you want to pick where you line up?” Always keep calm or as calm as possible. Instead of saying, “Henry can you hand me that block?” say, “Henry, hand me that blue block or the red block.” Think about when you are at a restaurant. If you are asked, “Do you want fries with that?” your brain believes the options are Yes or No. However, if you are asked “Do you want fries or coleslaw with that?” your brain will choose one of those options because it thinks those are the only options.
Try changing this one aspect of your parenting or teaching and let me know how it goes. Remember, you must catch yourself before you give the option to say No, have two positive choices available to choose from, and remain calm. For more help or suggestions follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or join my closed IEP Insiders Group on Facebook.