Any child can drive you nuts but a child who doesn’t seem to care about the rules or has no fear of adults can be a real test of the mettle. As a parent it’s hard because, well, you know you were frightened of your mum, so you’re expecting a bit of respect. As for teachers, we are prime examples of the sort of kids who meekly did as we were told, lapped up our education and then promptly regurgitated it to the next generation. It can come as a shock to realise there are kids out there who actually hate academic study, don’t have ambition and frankly find the entire situation so gawd awful they’d rather be down ‘t’ pit than stuck in a classroom full of people who don’t understand them.
So, after years of working it out on other people’s kids, here are my top tips for dealing with the ones who make you want to tear your hair out..
- Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to raise your voice. This will have one of two effects, neither of which are desirable. The child will either (a). retreat completely and become unreachable, possibly for the rest of the day, or (b). lose it completely and you will spend the rest of the day trying to scrape them off the ceiling. That doesn’t mean you can’t be firm, just don’t shout.
- Be crystal clear about the consequences and stick to them. Don’t make threats you can’t keep because you may very well end up having to keep them – if you can’t think of anything then just remind them there will be a consequence, (even if you haven’t come up with anything yet), this is far better than threatening something in the heat of the moment and having to climb down. Consistency is key so if you change your mind about the consequence you will find it much harder to convince them you mean it next time.
- Allow ‘cool down’ time. Don’t ask for too much, too soon. Give the child time to cool off then you can have a reasonable conversation. Trying to get to this stage too early will be completely counter-productive and possibly reignite the entire situation.
- Don’t expect to intimidate your subject. Yes, you were scared of your mum and teachers and, yes, if they just appeared scary enough, or shouty enough, you immediately became a wobbly pile of jelly and apologised. A child with difficulties isn’t going to automatically respect you just because you are older, or louder so let go of this one, pronto.
- Give three clear warnings before you give a consequence. This is clear, consistent and, crucially, allows time for a pride climb down. For example, ‘I’m going to give you three warnings, this is your first warning. If you get three warnings you will have to (insert consequence here)’ Repeat this, in your calmest voice, exactly the same way each time. If you get the sneaky feeling you’re going to need to save that consequence for something worse, you can even give a warning for the warning…for example, ‘If you carry on I will have to give you your second warning and you’ve only got 2 warnings left.’ I know, gazillions of warnings, but sometimes this is the best way and will actually get you what you want instead of creating a show down in which everyone loses.
- Be quick to spot the good stuff. It might be something everyone else can do right away but if you notice anything – a child who can’t usually say sorry uttering the words, a kid choosing to calmly take themselves to cool off or a shouter managing to keep it calm – compliment them.
- Be funny. This is by far the best way to be reprimanded so long as it is done in a way which includes the child, rather than being designed to encourage others to laugh at them, (I know this goes without saying but it’s important so I’ve said it anyway).
- Make it private. A quiet word in their conch-like is far better than broadcasting it to the world. The kind of children who are challenging you are also usually the children with the biggest self-esteem issues. Let them hang on to a modicum of pride and you’ll reap the rewards.
- Smile, smile, smile! Make your feelings very clear with your facial expressions, remember, kids who are likely to explode may well have some trouble reading body language so help them out by being obvious.
- Stay calm. Remember, you are the adult and no matter how rude or disrespectful they are being, they are just a child. You don’t have to ‘win’ to save face because you automatically hold all the trump cards.