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5 Tips for Teaching Students to Respect Authority

5 Tips for Teaching Students to Respect Authority

Dr. Rebecca Bell

As a school psychologist, I help teachers and parents craft behavior plans for students who are having difficulties in school. Without fail, the top two behaviors that are the most problematic for teachers are not following rules/directions and lack of work completion.

Here are some tips for teachers (and parents) to increase compliance with requests.

1) Start with requests that the child can definitely do and praise him/her. “Student, I need you to go get yourself an extra snack. Great! Thanks for following my direction.”

2) If Student is a complains or protests requests, then give a fixed choice, which allows him a small level of control. Defiance of authority usually has a root in a need for control, so give him a little. You would be surprised at how often this works. Say, “Student, you have a choice. You can start your math fact worksheet or read silently for 10 minutes. You pick.” I know, you’re thinking he will pick “neither” but that rarely happens. If he does say neither, you can say, “Would you like me to make a choice for you?” and that usually triggers a choice.

3) In the fixed choice technique, you can also make one choice totally undesirable so he picks the math worksheet or whatever you want them to do. When I pick up kids for testing and they balk, I say “Okay, you can come now, or during [insert favorite class]." Then if they choose to come with me, I thank them for taking responsibility. If it is a particularly oppositional kid who barely ever follows directions, then I usually call the parent in front of the kid and tell the parent how cooperative Student was for me after we’re done to reinforce him making a good choice.

4) Make sure the child understands the direction you are giving him or her. Sometimes, kids with learning or attention difficulties are not disrespecting your authority, sometimes they didn’t get the direction. You can ask them to repeat the direction in his/her own words to make sure all pieces of information got in. I am always so surprised when I test kids and have them repeat what I think are simple directions “Open your history book and turn to page 127” and they say, “Um, open your book to page 27?”

5) Deeeeeeeep breath. Kids who always say “no” or defy your authority can be super exasperating. Try to remain calm and use a business-like tone, so they do not know you are about to lose it. Kids respond to modeling. Model calm so things don’t escalate.

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