Student: I don’t have a pencil to do my work.
Teacher: You can have a pencil to do your work when you are sitting in your seat.
Student: I still need a pencil.
Teacher: Well, you were sitting in your seat but you didn’t keep your hands to yourself.
Student: Okay I’m sitting in my seat.
Teacher: You were sitting in your seat and you kept your hands to yourself, but you didn’t remain silent.
Student: Okay, I’m ready now.
Teacher: You were sitting in your seat, with your hands to yourself, and remained silent, but you kept kicking the desk in front of you.
Teacher: It’s time for you all to turn in your assignments.
Student: I didn’t finish my assignment.
Teacher: Well why not?
Student: Because I didn’t have a pencil.
Teacher: Well why didn’t you ask for a pencil?
This may seem an overdramatized example, but it’s something that happens very often in the classroom and at home. When we continuously change our expectations, we inadvertently (and very quickly) punish the desired behaviors we seek. As teachers and parents we need to be clear about what our expectations are from the beginning. If a child performs a skill and it is not to our liking, think to yourself, was I clear about what I wanted him to do?
If the error is on your part, you have to accept that this time the child performed the skill to the best of his understanding (I call them my Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moments). It is okay to “take the hit” for this one. Take this moment to praise for doing what then rephrase your expectations in a manner so the child understands exactly what you want him to do. If necessary provide some practice time so the child can demonstrate understanding (it also allows you to follow up with additional praise).
“Hey you did a great job sitting in your seat! Next time I’d like to see you sit while keeping your hands and feet to yourself, and using a quiet voice, okay? “I’m going to be checking!”