What's the Chances?
At the centre of good classroom management is a structured discipline and welfare policy that provides known consequences for actions. The secret is to make the child understand the connection between what they do and what happens as a result of that action. Of course a 100% connection is not a reflection of the real world. There are many consequences that can be linked back to any action. For example if I speed on my way to work I could get to work early, enjoy the thrill of driving fast, be booked for speeding, have an accident, kill a pedestrian, there are a lot of possibilities that can follow my action. So why is the tight link between the child’s actions and the consequences you deliver so important?
The objective of these Newsletters focuses on those students whose behaviour is severely dysfunctional however, the techniques we present will support all students. Our premise regarding those with severe behaviours has been that for the vast majority of the kids their problems can be traced back to an abusive/neglectful childhood.
In previous newsletters we have discussed how memories are formed and that those memories direct our behaviour. As a child we have a need and we try an action. If that satisfies the need we ‘remember’ it and when the need returns and we try the same action that memory gets stronger until it becomes our habit. If the action doesn’t get a result memories are not formed. This is at the heart of some of the behaviours we have discussed elsewhere, if throwing a tantrum worked once then I will try that again and if it continues to be effective that will become the habitual behaviour. As we know that’s fine until you try to get that need met in a different environment. Kids from these environments had a sense of control in their formative years but the tools they learned to get that control were specific to an environment that clashed with the one considered to be ‘normal’ such as the classroom.
For children who live with addicted parents or those with severe mental illness there is a lack of any predictability in their life. Addicts and those with unstable perception do not provide an expected connection between the consequences they deliver for a child’s action and so the child can’t effectively learn how to behave.
For example, if the son of an alcoholic gets into a fight and his father finds out the reaction from the father could be:
- A belting for hurting the other boy
- Getting a great deal of approval for being tough
- Being taken down to the other kids house to apologize.
The list goes on but in reality these and many other consequences the father dreams up are delivered depending on the ever-changing mood and perception of the father. The result is the child has no idea that what he does influences what happens to him.
The children from families appear ‘out of control’, dependent, vulnerable and just ‘bad’ but this is because they have no sense of control yet they still have the needs they try to satisfy.
How we can help these kids develop a sense of control is by attaching a most predictable consequence for their actions. Developing the link between actions and consequences is where the rules come into play. For example if they talk inappropriately in class they get the same consequence, or maybe a sequential set of consequences they expect. This is why the mantra of being consistent and persistent in your delivery of consequences is critical if you want them to develop that sense of control. If they get this sense of control in your classroom there is a chance they will develop the confidence to use that capacity into the world.
The other thing you can teach them is that life is not really that predictable. Take the example of me speeding while driving to work; some of the possible outcomes I could get are getting to work early, enjoying the thrill of driving fast, be booked for speeding, having an accident or kill a pedestrian. Only two of those consequences are in any way beneficial for me. They are getting to work and being thrilled by my speeding but I certainly don’t want the remaining three consequences. Of course the probability of these things happening varies. I suspect that the chances of killing someone is not very high and I’m most likely not going to be caught BUT if I do speed I must accept that every one of those possible consequences could occur and that they would be my responsibility.
So, we teach the kids, yes there are probabilities and more likely than not you will get away with acting in an inappropriate manner but eventually that consequences you did not want will come up. As I said to the kids, ‘well your number has come up, you knew that could happen so accept it is your responsibility’. If you never want to have a particular consequence never do the action that can extract that outcome.
Linking actions to consequences is the greatest empowerment you can give to these damaged kids. Not only will it make their position in life more powerful it provides you with a ready-made language to manage your classroom.