In my early years of working in a middle school in the rough part of town, my colleagues and I did a lot of de-briefing. Every day there was a new slew of problems, and we often felt like we were losing the fight for these kids attention and respect.
I complained one day that I couldn’t even get my kids to sit down, let alone read or do anything else on the curriculum. I knew a lot of tricks and tips for gaining a kid’s compliance, but I was out of ideas.
I asked a coworker “I’ve tried everything! What can I say to these kids to get them to sit and listen!”
And he said “Well, did you say please?”
I was struck dumb. I’m not a rude person. But, after honest reflection, I had to confess, “No, I guess I didn’t”. I was terribly ashamed. I defended myself by saying “C’mon, these kids don’t listen to a word I say. Why would ‘please’ be any different?”
And he hit me with another great point: “Maybe they won’t listen. But then when you ask a second time, you can at least say ‘look, I asked you nicely…'”
His advice worked, and when it didn’t, I at least had a more clear conscience about my tactics. Set the example and the tone of politeness and respect, and you avoid accusations of mistreatment or unfairness.
It all sounds so simple and obvious I’m slightly embarrassed to share that it was a major “Aha!” moment for me. But it’s a good example of how tiny shifts in attitude and word choice can make a world of difference for you and your kids.
Like I tell the children: “‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘sorry’ don’t cost you anything”, so use them liberally!