Grab a handful of cooked spaghetti and squeeze. If the spaghetti seeps out just squeeze tighter. If the spaghetti continues to seep out, don’t worry squeezing harder will eventually work. Now, if you have been able to keep the spaghetti in your hands stop reading. If you’ve managed to let the spaghetti fall out of your hand, here’s a towel to clean up the mess you have made.
Trying to maintain complete order in the classroom or at home is much like squeezing cooked spaghetti in your hands, as you squeeze tighter the spaghetti just continues to seep out. As teachers and parents we often attempt to corral all opportunities for control. However, in doing so you can unintentionally create a condition in which the child makes every attempt to regain some semblance of control in their lives.
Sometimes it feels easier to take charge and remove all opportunities for control. Yet, by attempting to exert all the power and control you unintentionally lose it. What we need to consider is the power of choices.
I recently watched a teacher tell a student everything he couldn’t do and everything he had to do, right now. For example, she told him not to leave his seat. The student’s reaction, “watch me”. I asked the teacher if I could intervene. With her permission I stepped up to him and said, “I notice you might be a bit upset, if you care to talk about it, I’m here. In the meantime, if you care to work instead that’s fine too. Let me know what you decide.” Then I walked away.
The student, apparently trying to save face, didn’t respond for a minute or so. But eventually he asked for his work assignment. I offered him the opportunity to talk during lunch and he nodded.
Using this strategy I was able to get the student to not only do what I really wanted him to do. I also got him to talk about what was truly bothering him later on. Why? Not because I made him do it, but because he felt he had the choice. I offered him some options, both of which I was perfectly fine with. Sometimes we just don’t give kids enough credit.
He could easily have chosen unspoken option C, do nothing. I would have been fine with that as well. Eventually he would want something from me. In that moment, I would come back to the problem at hand. In order to get whatever it is I can provide, I only make it available when he “fixes” the problem.
So the next time you feel the need to squeeze every ounce of control, you can provide some choices from the start, or keep a towel on hand to clean up the mess.