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It’s a minor miracle. Every morning, kids swarm into school shouting, running, dropping things, and shouting some more. Ten minutes later, coats and backpacks hang on hooks, and kids are calmly seated. And the teacher didn’t yell once! If you’re like most parents, you’re wondering how those teachers do it. Martial law, maybe?
Not exactly. But it isn’t accidental either. Especially in elementary school, but the in the later grades as well, teachers use specific, systematic tools for keeping order, and many of these can help at home. Looking for tips? Here are my top four, tested over many years of teaching:
- Routine. Every morning, the teacher says, “Take out your notes and let’s get started.” And the kids do. Why? The first few times, it’s because the teacher insisted. But then came a crucial message: “We’ll do this every day. I will expect you to follow this routine, and I know you can do it.” Once the routine is established, it takes over and does your job for you. The key is specific, measurable steps which you teach and repeat, one by one. Dinner’s over? Set a routine of clearing plates, and model exactly how it’s done. Reinforce the lesson daily for the first few weeks. Then all you have to do is point.
- Picture, Place and Word Reminders. Take a look at a typical classroom and you’ll see specific homes for everything: Homework Basket. Bathroom Pass. Cozy Corner. You can parallel this system at home by making sure, for example, that library books always go on the same shelf, or towels live in one closet. And for those crazy mornings, consider a list on the back of your child's door. For big kids, you can use words; little kids may need simple pictures. Either way, it’s a daily reminder of what kids needs to remember … and it’s one fewer time you’ll need to nag.
- Loud Voice/Quiet Voice. Even the calmest classrooms have moments of Total Kid Pandemonium. Here’s a teacher trick: Get attention with a voice a notch louder than the kids. Keep it short—“Hey!”—and then quickly drop your voice below theirs. How can they hear you? They'll have to shush!
- Freeze. Ever give directions, only to have your kid pretend you never spoke? Take a tip from the teacher book: Slow down! Not just your words…but your whole body. Start by getting your child’s attention. Look each other in the eye, and be still. Give the directions clearly, and give your kid time to ask clarifying questions. Don’t move for at least fifteen seconds—you are transferring responsibility, and your kid needs to take it on. Follow up with a sincere question: “Do you think you can do this?” The conversation will not end until the child says a confident “Yes.”
Of course, none of these tools will guarantee you smooth sailing. Teachers will be the first to tell you that they, too, sometimes feel like screaming. But slowly and surely, these tools can make a difference. Your child will see you take clear authority and provide guidance; and with luck you may even find time for a cup of coffee in the morning.
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