Getting Kids to Do What You Want Them to Do

12 02 2012

Managing the behavior of children can sometimes seem impossible.


A well-prepared teacher can have a lesson sabotaged by one mischievous student.

“Stop talking…Don’t get out of your seat…Stop bothering George …This is not the time to play with your toy…Please stop spinning your ruler…Don’t lean back on your chair…”

A responsible parent trying to shop may follow this all-familiar script:

“Don’t touch that…Leave the mannequin alone…Don’t run inside…Stop saying that over and over…No, you can’t go there…No, we can’t buy that…”

Children can wear us out!             

Instead of telling them what not to do, give them something very specific to do.

Sometimes teachers tell students what to do without getting the resistant student to comply. That’s when being very specific helps.

Vague: “Get to work.”

Very specific: “Pick up your pencil and answer the questions now. Keep working until you are finished.”

In the home, the script might sound like this:

Vague: “Do your chores.”

Very specific: “Pick up all those toys and put them in the toy box. Pick up every book and put them in the book shelf. Throw all the trash in the trash can. Put all the clothes in the laundry basket.”

If the child talks back, simply get closer to the child and repeat the directions like a broken record without raising your voice.

Here’s a real conversation I had with my teenage son:

Me: “Move your clothes from the living room and take them to your bedroom now.”

Chris: (while walking up the steps empty handed) “I’ll do it later.”

Me: (following close behind him) “Move your clothes now. Take them from the living room to your bedroom now.”

Chris: (in the bathroom) “I’m going to take a shower now.”

Me: (putting my foot in the door to keep it from closing) “Move your clothes now. Take them from the living room to your bedroom now.”

Chris: (still in the bathroom) “I don’t have any clothes on.”

Me: “Put a towel around you and move your clothes now. Take them from the living room to your bedroom now.”

Chris: (huffing in frustration and resignation) “Oh, all right.”

Practice watching adult-child interactions in the mall.

Look for parents telling their children simply what not to do.  They’ve entered the Land of Not -where people speak only “don’t” and “stop.”

Then listen for parents telling their children what to do.

“Hold onto my coat. Look for a white jacket. Tell me when you see a sale sign.”

Before our sons could read, I gave them their own food list. Pictures on their list were of things I needed to buy. Their job was to look for those items. It kept them busy and helped me.

If you’re interested in learning more about this method of behavior management, check out Michael Valentine’s website.

What’s your greatest behavior management challenge?

Teaching Social Skills to Early Learners

3 12 2011

Strategy: Social Stories


  • Social stories are used with children who have autism spectrum disorders.  Social stories help these individuals tolerate change and teach them how to interact in specific social situations.  Explicit instruction is necessary for many of these children.    Early learners who do not exhibit autism can also benefit from social stories.
  • Social stories can be used to teach new routines and expected actions.
  • Social stories contain simple steps for achieving certain goals.


  • A social story can be created to match exact situations children will encounter.
  • Very little planning is required to develop a script for a social story.  A handwritten script for a story can simply be read aloud to the student(s).  The teacher or adult has the option of writing the story down and creating a more formal presentation of the story (e. g., a book).
  • A social story is a nonthreatening, enjoyable way of communicating expected behaviors.
  • Rereading the story reinforces expected behaviors.
  • Students begin to visualize themselves doing the appropriate behaviors (like a mental rehearsal).
  • Students learn from the story what types of feelings will result in doing appropriate behaviors, and what feelings and consequences result from behaving inappropriately/incorrectly.
  • Social stories can prevent problem behaviors and student anxiety (resulting from uncertainty about what to do and how to act).  When a social story is read prior to a new situation, the student(s) have already mentally rehearsed expected behaviors.
  • Social stories reinforce the concept of stories (as a language arts goal for early learners).

Elements included in a Social Story:

  1. Describe the context of the target situation.  (a descriptive sentence)
  2. Describe the desired behavior which would follow a specific social cue or situation.  (a descriptive sentence)
  3. Describe typical reactions and feelings of others (e. g., how they would perceive the desired behavior).   (a perspective sentence)
  4. Statements which validate the socially acceptable behaviors – affirming the importance of such behaviors.  (an affirmative sentence)

Sample Social Story Script :

In school I have ‘center time.’  (Descriptive Sentence) 

At ‘center time’ I like to visit the building station and the shopping station.   (Descriptive Sentence)

Other kids like to play with me at the building station.  (Perspective Sentence)

When I share nicely in the building station, other kids are happy with me.   (Perspective Sentence)

It’s a good thing to share nicely. (Affirmative Sentence) 

It would be a bad thing if someone grabbed a Lego block from a kid.  (Descriptive Sentence) 

That would make the kid cry.  (Perspective Sentence) 

Jesus told us to love others.  (Descriptive  Sentence)  

Jesus had a good idea when He made that rule.  (Affirmative Sentence)

That’s why it is good to first ask nicely if you want a turn to play with a Lego.  (Affirmative Sentence)

Whenever I share nicely, the other kids want to play with me more and more.  (Perspective Sentence)