How Teachers Can Achieve a Calm, Compliant Classroom

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I teach fifth grade. I follow your column and website and I know that I will be a better teacher this year because of you, so thanks. Anyway, what is the one piece of advice that you would give a teacher like me who has struggled with discipline throughout his career? What’s the one thing that I need to do that will make this school year easier/better?

— Johnathan


Thank you for your kind words. I am glad to help.

I did not have to think about the answer to your question for a second. There is one easy, simple thing that I do that is more important than anything else that I do to get a calm, compliant classroom. It doesn’t require training. It will make you a significantly better teacher the moment that you resolve to do it. It will make your life easier. It will bond your students to you so that they will actually do what you ask just to please you even if they have never done anything to please anyone in their entire lives.

Here it is.

When your students walk through the door to your classroom, every single one of them gets three things every single day:

  • Eye contact
  • A smile
  • Friendly, safe physical contact

When they leave for the day, every single kid gets these three things again — every single day.

While doing this is not the only method for building relationships with kids, it is the single best and most effective strategy that you can use to quickly and easily bond with students. Building positive relationships with kids is more important than anything else I teach adults. In fact, it’s more important than everything else I teach combined.

So then, how do we do this? Greeting kids exactly the way I describe here is essential. First, absolutely all classroom preparations need to done before your students arrive. You need to be able to portray calm, loving authority the moment your students see you. This cannot be done while fooling with your SMART board or preparing lessons.

Position yourself in the doorway so that you can see into your classroom, you can see into the hallway, and so that your kids can’t sneak by you. Again, calm, loving authority is the name of the game. Have an open stance and a smile on your face as your kids come in. Physically block the door until you have completed your daily greeting. As each kid approaches, extend your hand no more than six inches from your body so that you don’t lose face if a kid is able to squeeze by you and “leaves you hanging.” Model proper hand shaking: look in their eyes and give them a firm handshake with your right hand. hand shakeIf it is appropriate, the child initiates it and it is approved by your administrator, give the child a hug. At that moment, that kid is the only kid in the world. Normal small talk is fine here, but don’t be afraid to throw in some specifics such as, “I notice you wear red a lot!” or “I notice you are usually one of the first ones here.” Kids, especially difficult kids, have a high need to be noticed. For them, we are in a daily race to notice them for something neutral or positive… before we have to notice them for something negative. If we notice them before they act out, they are much less likely to act out at all.

At the end of the day give each kid the same smile, eye contact, and handshake. Again, if the aforementioned conditions are fulfilled, a hug would be great here. Also, be with your kids as long as you can be depending upon how your school dismisses. I stand at the door and shake the hands of my car riders and I walk all of my bus riders all the way out to each of their buses before I say goodbye.June 2011 204

Middle and high school teachers, you may be wondering if you need to greet and say goodbye to your kids at the beginning and end of each period. The answer is yes! A pat on the back or high five may be more practical, but all of the big three need to be practiced every day. There is no better use of your time.

Remember, teachers who don’t smile until Christmas lose their minds by Thanksgiving!


How to Simultaneously Remove and Train a Belligerent Student

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I appreciate you offering to give me some strategies because my para and I are at our wits’ end. I am in a K-3 ED classroom with five children. I’ve got a great para and we are on the same page – which is important.

The student giving us the blues is a first grade female. When she has an anger/rage episode, it starts w/ her walking around the class (let her do, she wants attention) When she gets no attention & others are great at ignoring, she ups the ante by putting her face into others faces and calling them “bitch” or she’ll touch their desk. Others are still pretty good at ignoring. I praise them for ignoring, she escalates more.

If the para is in the room, one of us will take the other students out of the room (removing the audience). The boys who are able to ignore and not react to her are always rewarded w/ extra stickers and they even earn gummy worm treat. (They love that!!! 15 stickers earn them an ice cream sundae.)

Even after the audience is removed, she is thoroughly angry at this point and starts throwing chairs, desks and tossing stuff off my desk (my personal trigger that sends me into the next universe, but I’m learning to breathe deeply- a lot)

The last 5 days, she has had these episodes when the para is at lunch, leaving me in the class by myself. Therefore, also leaving “removing the audience” tool unavailable. We try ignoring longer, even trying to encourage the boys to ignore, but she escalates to the point that it requires me to do something.

The way this usually has ended (especially when the para is at lunch) is I have to put the girl in a bear hug type restraint hold while I’m rubbing her hands, arms, back in a figure 8 motion that usually in about 10-15 minutes she falls asleep and naps for 30-60 min.

At this point in the year, I’m tired of being kicked by this girl (who happens to have the biggest, heaviest boots available to a 6 year old on her feet w/ all this snow ) I’m tired of the classroom being tore up, too.

I saw your blog post on the “temper tantrum”, and I’ve tried that, and obviously haven’t perfected it, but my concern is that she continues to escalate to violence. I don’t know what to do to stop the violence.

These little people are so angry and violent…..It is beyond saddening. My principal’s suggestion: “your lessons aren’t engaging enough”……sigh……Sorry – needed to get that vent out.

                                                                                                -Terry, Louisville, KY

Dear Terry,

Now that you got that vent out about your principal, let me get mine out.

Here goes. Ahem… (throat clear, throat clear). Okay….Terry’s principal? I need to get this off my chest.


There. I feel better. The truth is that principals generally know less about using specific and explicit classroom management skills than teachers do because they are not in the classrooms dealing with negative behaviors in real time as they happen. Even when I was a principal, my preventive interventions got rusty because I wasn’t using them full time, and I am great at using this stuff. Oh, man. I’m starting to get worked up again. Oh boy, here it comes…


OK, I think I said that twice, but I thought that it needed to be repeated.

Alright, now that that is out of the way, let’s do this. Let me show you how to take your classroom and sanity back. This WILL work because we are not going to leave anything to chance. Right now you are depending mostly on the power of prayer to deal with this kid, as in “Please Lord, don’t let the devil child show up today.” By the time you get done reading this, and put the plan in place, you will be looking forward to her next freak out!

I’m serious!

Before you carry out this plan, I am going to suggest that you change whatever the rules in your classroom are. For how to do this go to my blog entry “How to Set Limits with Only One Rule”. It is for parents, but you can adjust the process to fit your classroom setting.

This is my Love and Logic™ response to your question.

I will be writing this as if I was in your situation. My first step is that I will have a meeting with my principal to give her the details of this plan and have her sign off on it. Maybe I don’t show her the first part of this response. If she refuses to support this plan, I ask her to 1) Come up with a plan of her own, and 2) Ask her to personally demonstrate the use of this plan. If she doesn’t want to do this, I ask her to sign a document saying that she acknowledges that she is unable to figure out what to do with this situation and is unwilling to allow my plan.

Next, I communicate the plan to my para.

Once the children arrive, I get excited, because I know that I am going to take my classroom back. Not through a long process, not once I get a kid removed from school sometime in the future. I will be taking my classroom back TODAY.

I greet each child at the door and I give each kid three things as I do EVERY SINGLE DAY.June 2011 204

  1. Eye contact

  2. A smile

  3. Physical contact

That’s a strong handshake or a hug, if that is line with my school’s policies, and a smile while looking them in the eye.

When everything is going well, and I want to do this ASAP before she freaks out, I sit down in front of her and say this with my para present, if possible while holding her hand, or having some kind of safe, loving touch.

Kid Whisperer: Hi, hon. We owe you a huge apology. We talked and we think that we have confused you by giving you a bunch of confusing rules and then we have let you break those rules and then we allowed you to stay here even after you broke them. We realize now that this was too confusing. Do you except our apology?

Kid: Uh, I guess.

Kid Whisperer: Thanks. Yesterday, do you remember when everyone decided that we should only have one rule? Let’s look at it on the wall. Remember how you guys wrote your new rule up on the wall? It says “We may do anything we want as long as it does not cause a problem”. Honey, from now on, you can be in this room for as long as you don’t cause a problem. We love you and we want to you to be here for as long as you can be pleasant and not cause a problem. Good luck and we love you.

Kid: Uh, OK.

To be clear, ABSOLUTELY NO PART OF ME EXPECTS THIS CHILD TO BE COMPLIANT AFTER THIS CONVERSATION. In fact I don’t want her to be compliant! The shock of the talk may buy me five minutes in order to prepare for what is coming next. You are already doing a good job of ignoring the walking around. I have tons of interventions for this, but I won’t use them yet. Remember, she is now allowed to do anything she wants as long as she does not cause a problem, and walking around does not cause a problem. As soon as she causes a problem, I thank my lucky stars and think to myself that I am now going to take my classroom back.

Kid puts her hands on another child’s desk.

Kid Whisperer: (with empathy) Oh, man. This is sad. Can you follow our rule or do you need to take a break?

Kid rolls her eyes and continues to wander around the room. After a few minutes, she jumps on top of a child’s desk, and puts her finger in his face.

Kid: THAT’S WHY YOUR MOMMA’S A BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!angry girl

Kid Whisperer or Para: Oh, man. We have a spot for children who don’t follow the rule in the back of the class and in the room next door you can go to either one. Come back as soon as you can follow our rules. We want you to be with us. Would you like to go there with your feet on the ground or your feet in the air?

Kid: I’m gonna, loose my mind!!! I am going to go off!! AAAAAAGHGHGHG!!!!!!!!!

Para: Oh, man. Feet in the air it is. Para safely picks up Kid and walks her to a chair in another room, preferably an out of the way place where she can be supervised by the para without the para or anyone else giving her any attention (not in the hallway), and sits her in the chair.

Note: An alternate strategy, depending on the child’s size, your comfort level, the wishes of your administration, and your own physical strength is to give the choice to either walking backward or forwards. If the child goes on their own, they will walk forwards to the chair, if they refuse, you put them in child’s control restraint and walk them backwards according to CPI’s guidelines for child’s control position. In that case you will simply say “Oh, man, walking backwards it is.” before putting her in the restraint.

The child is allowed to come back at any time as long as she does not cause a problem. In my room, good seconds are spent in class, bad seconds are spent in recovery (in the chair). NO attention is given to the child in recovery and no work is provided.

Of course, the child is going to spring off that chair like it’s on fire if she has been carried there. At that point, the job title of the Para changes to Goalie. While I am teaching in my new obnoxious kid free classroom, the para allows the child to come back only if she is not causing a problem. If she runs back, is yelling or doing anything that causes a problem during her reentry into the class, the Goalie says “Oh man”, picks the child up and returns her to her to recovery. As soon as the Goalie becomes too tired, bored or annoyed with having to do this, she puts the child into child’s control position and stays in the recovery area restraining her until the child falls asleep or says calmly that she is able to return to the group. If she can return to the group and not cause a problem, terrific. If not, she is asked to go to either recovery area using the exact same script as was used earlier. If she refuses to go, the “feet in the air” script is repeated. When she finally does decide to return on her own, she is not lectured, warned, or threatened. She is given a smile with no acknowledgement of what just happened.

Be ready for your para to have to restrain to the point of Kid falling asleep. COUNT THIS AS A SUCCESS!!!!!!! You have only three goals here:

  1. The other kids can learn.

  2. You can teach.

  3. Kid learns, through much suffering, that she can be pleasant in the classroom or unpleasant outside of it.


  • Allow her to go to the recovery area in the classroom only if she goes there willingly. This will encourage compliance and better maintain your learning environment.

  • Allow her to go to the out of room recovery area if she wishes. If possible, Kid should be able to be monitored without her realizing it. NO ATTENTION IS PAYED TO A CHILD IN RECOVERY.

  • Remember your three goals and concentrate only on these goals. Even if she ends up falling asleep in a restraint every day for a week, you have still achieved your three goals. She will eventually become compliant.

  • This recovery process can and should be used with all of your students.

  • This MUST BE DONE WITH EMPATHY OR IT WILL NOT WORK!! Saying “Oh, man” in exactly the place where I told you to do it IS NOT OPTIONAL.

  • DO NOT INSTITUTE THIS PLAN YET!!!!! Talk to your para and your other colleagues. Try to figure out every possible logistical issue. Where will this recovery room be? It can be in another classroom if need be. What else may go wrong? Once you have problems which you feel can’t be solved, message me and I will solve them.

  • Kid is able to control these outbursts because she is now waiting for your para to leave the room before she has them. In preparation for this, have an independent assignment ready for your other students. Follow the script and be ready to be restraining Kid in in-room recovery. It isn’t optimal, but it may be all you can do. If your para is flexible and is able to be “on call” during her lunch for a week and you can text her to come back for the outburst, this should stop Kid from being able to take advantage of this chink in your armor and she will eventually stop manipulating in this way. Your para could perhaps finish her lunch later.

  • If your principal and you deem it necessary, talk to her parent or parents about this new plan but tell her or them not to say anything to their child about the plan.

  • This plan does not need a parent’s involvement in order to be successful. In fact, parental support is irrelevant. You don’t need it.

Good luck, Terry, and congratulations! Your school year is about to improve. Again, keep me in the loop!

-The Kid Whisperer

How to Handle Students Making Fun of You

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am a high school creative writing teacher. My students are often disrespectful to me. Often they will make fun of my mannerisms or phrases that I use. It is usually as an aside but is often right in my face. I really hate this but I have no idea what to do. Any thoughts?

– Sarah, Dayton, Ohio


I do have some thoughts! There are two different ways to handle this. One is an intervention and another is a consequence. Feel free to experiment with both, either, or neither! If it’s going to be both, try out the intervention first.

So here’s the thing: you are being bullied. These kids in your class are having a great time making you feel terrible, so we’re going to stop this now. Just to be really clear: anything that goes on in your classroom that you don’t like is not OK and it is your right to stop it from happening. So here’s the intervention. I’m going to coach you through this the same way I coach kids to deal with bullies. For a blog entry on how you can help kids to bully-proof themselves you can go to These concepts work no matter what the age of the bully and bully-ee!

As far as you are concerned, I can give you some specific interventions that work for your situation as a teacher. Remember, the bully bullies in order to make the bully-ee angry/sad/depressed/scared, so don’t show that you are any of these things and the bully will stop. The disclaimer here is that it will probably briefly get worse before it gets better! This is how I would use a bully-proofing intervention to deal with your situation.

Kid: (In a mocking tone) …and that is the magic of creative writing!

Class laughs

Kid Whisperer: (Laughing louder much longer than everyone else) That is true! That is true! I do say that ALL THE TIME. Hah! I do love creative writing and I DO say that A LOT! Whoa! I say that! YAH!! (More laughing until everyone feels uncomfortable).

Later, while the students are working quietly, for no apparent reason, with a big smile and with a pirate accent…


Later, while the Kid is trying to work…

Kid Whisperer: (In a really loud whisper): Hey! Hey! Psst! Remember how I always say “and that is the magic of creative writing?” (Crazy smile, thumbs up)

Obnoxious Kid rolls his eyes and probably never messes with you again.

If kids make fun of a mannerism or tick, walk in one day only doing that mannerism or tick. Play it up times 100 and draw as much attention to it as possible. If you have a slight limp, make it a huge limp. If you have a facial tick, stare at the kid who make fun of it and make the tick constantly with a smile until the kid looks away. If you are clumsy and fell once two months ago, fall like Chevy Chase all over the room for fifteen minutes. The kid may try once to make fun again, but if you don’t show that you are angry/sad/depressed/scared, the joke just won’t work and the joke will be on him because he won’t get the same response from his cheering section.

OK, so here is the Love and Logic way to deliver a consequence for your scenario:

Kid: …and that’s the magic of creative writing!

Everyone laughs

Kid Whisperer exhales and rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Kid Whisperer finishes his lesson, assigns silent seat work, and moves in on the Kid from behind and whispers.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. We’re going to have to do something about this. But not now, later. Try not to worry about it.

Kid: What?!?

Kid Whisperer: (walking away) I only say things once.

Later, in this case during the child’s lunch, and with no one else in the room, I have this conversation.

Kid Whisperer: (Rubbing his eyes) Ugh. I am exhausted. When you are mean to me and make fun of me it drains my energy.

Kid: I wasn’t making fun of you.

Kid Whisperer: I respect you too much to argue. After having to deal with your hurtful words, I don’t have the energy to go hang out with my friends and husband after schooI like I usually do. Therefore, I am going to ask you to come in during your lunches and give me back my energy. Every week I scrub the desks and floorboards in this room. I am going to have you scrub them instead so that I can get my energy back and live my life the way I want to. Feel free to go back to lunch with your friends as soon as I feel that you have given me back my energy. The harder you work, the faster I will get my energy back. Feel free to stare off into space for as long as you’d like. You know what you need to do in order to return to lunch. Thanks.

I have calmly set a limit in a way that makes me the boss of the situation. I have also given myself another intervention! Whenever this child makes fun of me or looks like he is about to make fun of me, I can simply rub my eyes with my thumb and forefinger while exhaling. This is now a cue that the child will recognize as “You are taking my energy. We will talk about this later.” It also tells the child and everyone else that I can handle them by being calm and without being entertaining!

Thanks for the question, Sarah. I hope this helps!

-The Kid Whisperer

Feel free to “Like” and “Share” this if you think this is helpful!

How to Help Your Students Deal with Bullies

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Dear Kid Whisperer,

I teach fifth grade in Los Angeles, CA. I have a really rough group of kids. I read your blog religiously and I have had a lot of success using the skills that you describe. I am able to be more strict and more relaxed than at any other time in my 20 year career. I wanted to know if anything you teach can be used to get my students to stop bullying each other. They won’t mess with me anymore, so I feel like they have turned on each other! Any thoughts?

                                D’anicka, Los Angeles

Dear D’anicka,

Oh, boy, are you in for a treat, and boy, are the bullies in your classroom in trouble! I am going to show you how to stop bullying without lectures, warnings, threats, trying to control things that you can’t control, or taking any class time to “teach” kids why bullying is wrong.

After 14 years of dealing every day with very difficult kids as a principal, teacher, and discipline specialist, I have become very frustrated with all of the useless, utterly adorable nonsense splattered all over the internet by so-called experts that is supposed to combat bullying. Perhaps you have been using these methods in order to stop your kids from bullying. Perhaps this is why you have a problem.

It is so incredibly unfair to us educators when this junk is pushed on us. It makes us think two pretty difficult things that usually aren’t true.

  1. We are the problem.

  2. Our students are incorrigible, awful people.

In actuality, our students bully because it works for them. It gets them what they want. It gets then attention and it makes them feel better about themselves to see others feel worse. Creating an anti- bullying bulletin board, hiring a charismatic speaker to shame bullies, or lecturing bullies about their behavior is not only ineffective, it makes bullying worse.

We teachers need to understand some truths about bullying in order to understand why 99% of anti-bullying measures actually encourage bullying. Prepare yourself, these go against conventional wisdom.

  1. The worst action you can take when one student bullies another is to point out the behavior to the class and lecture the bully while pointing out the identity of the bully-ee. This gives attention to a behavior that is usually attention-seeking, advertises the fact that the teacher really has little or no control over bullying, and puts a huge bulls-eye on the forehead of the bully-ee. Furthermore, defending the bully-ee gives the implicit message that the victim is weak and cannot defend herself without the help of an adult. What do you think will happen to the bully-ee when there is no adult within earshot? That’s right, it’s open season on weak kids! Doing this is worse than ignoring the behavior altogether.

  2. Long lectures about the evils of bullying meant to prevent said behavior are counterproductive because they give obnoxious kids a road map and instruction manual on how to effectively bully someone and they give semi-obnoxious kids some great ideas on how to become fully obnoxious.

  3. The more attention we give to bullying in any public capacity, the more fame and glory we give to bullies, which, of course, encourages the bullying.


Ack. I hate to write this much without demonstrating a solution. So many other so-called experts will just give you an opinion about how teachers do something that is destroying the world, but then have no alternative actions. Why? BECAUSE THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT TEACHERS AND HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT! So here is the Love and Logic® response that I had last month for a student who was being bullied. Notice that I never take any whole group instructional time, I let the bully-ee solve the problem herself, and that I never even deal with the bully!

Kid Whisperer is called by a Parent who is concerned that her daughter is being bullied by two other students at her table. Parent instructs Kid Whisperer to solve this problem. Kid Whisperer informs Parent that he only solves his own problems and that any attempt to solve the problem for the daughter will make the bullying worse. Kid Whisperer tells parent that he cares too much about Parent’s kid to let that happen.

The next day, Kid Whisperer calls the bully-ee (Kid) up to the reading table in between two reading groups. The classroom is silent as Kid Whisperer and Kid whisper to one another.

Kid Whisperer: I understand that Daquan and Tequilla are being mean to you.

Kid: Uh-huh.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. So what’s going on?

Kid: (with tears welling up in her eyes) Well, Tequilla calls me fat and ugly and Daquan just agrees with her. Tequilla is trying to get Janae to not be friends with me and Daquan said that I smell and he pinches his nose and pretends that I stink.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. What are you going to do?

Kid just shrugs.

Kid Whisperer: Hmmmm, would you like to know what some other kids have tried?

Kid: I guess.

Kid Whisperer: Some kids choose to scream and yell and jump up and down while picking their boogers. How would that work out for you?

Kid: (Laughing and wiping her tears away) No. Gross!

Kid Whisperer: No? How do you know? Have you tried it?

Kid: No. Gross, Mr. Ervin.

Kid Whisperer: Alright, some kids try ignoring kids who are messing with them. How would that work out for you?

Kid: I tried that… that’s what my mom told me to do. It worked for a little bit, but then it didn’t work.

Kid Whisperer: Yeah, ignoring usually doesn’t work very well. Hmmm. Let me ask you this, why do you think they are bothering you?

Kid: Because they are trying to make me sad.

Kid Whisperer: Bingo. What if you never showed them that it made you sad? What if you pretended that them being jerks actually made you happy? What might they do then?

Kid: (with the sly grin that I’ve been looking for) Stop?

Kid Whisperer: Hmmm. Do you think it might make them mad first?

Kid: (Now with a full smile) Yes.

Kid Whisperer: Might that be fun?

Kid: Yes!

Kid Whisperer: What do you think you could say to pretend that you are actually happy that they are making fun of you?

Kid: I don’t know.

Kid Whisperer: Would you like to know what someone in our class came up with earlier this year?

Kid: Yes.

Kid Whisperer: Anytime anyone would make fun of her, she would make the craziest looking smile she could make and say (Kid Whisperer makes the most deranged smile he can muster) “I’M HAPPY!” How would that work out for you?

Kid: Great!

Kid Whisperer: I can’t wait for them to try and make fun of you!

Kid: I can’t either!

Kid Whisperer: Can you do me a favor?

Kid: Yes.

Kid Whisperer: Can you let me know how it goes?

Kid: Okay.

Kid Whisperer: Remember, this is going to make them mad, so they are going to get even meaner before they stop. I know a bunch of good things to say to people who are being mean. Do you want me to share them with you later?

Kid:  Yes!

Kid Whisperer: Okay, I can’t wait for them to try to make fun of you!

Kid: I can’t either!

Let me be clear: Going through this process has worked every single time I have done it. In fact, once the child is armed with lots of one liners for the bullies, the bully-ee will sometimes start to non-violently and passively terrorize the bully! It’s so wonderful to see because,

  1. It’s hilarious.

  2. It creates a permanent power shift in the class where the nice kids are in charge.

I must share with you something that happened weeks after I had begun to bully proof this student. Daquan approached me with a complaint about the now bully-proofed student.

Kid: Mr. Ervin, Sara just keeps looking crazy and saying “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy.” It’s driving me crazy!

Kid Whisperer: Thanks for sharing that with me.

Kid: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

Until I see that this tactic is causing a significant problem for the bully, I won’t call off the dogs! And I have never seen this happen. Former bully-ees are very satisfied to do this just enough to keep their former tormenters in check.

D’anicka, I hope this helps. Please contact me with questions!

                                -The Kid Whisperer

Also, if you’d like to know some more one liners to give to bully-ees in order to bully proof them, you can get them here:

Sign up for my double top secret bully one-liners!

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How to Train the Chronic Tantrum Thrower

Dear Kid Whisperer,

                I have a (generally) well behaved 4th grade class, but I have one student who has serious anger issues. He gets angry, especially when he has to do work. I can see it coming a mile away.  I always tell him that he could do the work if he just tried. This has had no effect.  When he doesn’t have a tantrum and just does it, he’s actually done before a lot of other kids, which I always tell him. He’s very smart. His parents have sent him to therapy because of his anger. It has not helped at all. In fact, things have gotten worse since the therapy started. How do I get him to not throw a fit and just do the work?          

Amy, Kansas City, Missouri


Thanks for the excellent question.  It is so excellent that I am going to answer it in two separate blog entries, because you are really asking two totally separate questions.

1)      How do I stop this kid from having a temper tantrum?

2)      How do I get him to do his work?

I am going to answer them separately, just as you should think of them separately.  These are two different negative behaviors that need to be handled using two different skills. Let’s tackle how to avoid either one of you having a temper tantrum first.

First, you need to come to the baseline understanding that you cannot “make” him not have a tantrum. As Love and Logic® teachers, we never try to control what can’t be controlled. We can change things that we can control in order to drastically increase the odds of compliance, but we never try to control the uncontrollable. This sounds like common sense, but how often do we try to control that which cannot be controlled?  When we tell a kid what to do, and the kid says “you can’t make me!” they are absolutely right!

             tanturm Therein lies the reason why 99% of kids throw tantrums: they know that we can’t stop them! They are seeking control by exhibiting this negative behavior. Tantrums over work can be hard to get rid of because the behavior can be control seeking, attention seeking and work avoiding. If the behavior gets any of those things, the behavior will be reinforced. The idea that kids “have anger issues” that need therapy is downright silly in 99% of cases. I often have children tell me when they walk into my class for the first time that they have anger issues. I simply smile and say “Nice try.” Remember:

 Kids do things that work for them!

I am very familiar with children who have gotten what they want over a long period of time by throwing fits. I have a student who is The Jedi Master of temper tantrums. I was informed by his second grade teacher that he hadn’t learned a thing the year before and had basically held the class hostage with his antics.  She told me that he was the most difficult child she had ever worked with in 25 years of teaching. At the beginning of the year, he averaged twice daily rolling around on the floor, punching himself in the face, screaming and yelling, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. They would sometimes last for an hour. Now, in February, his tantrums occur every few weeks, last for a couple of minutes, and mainly consist of growling to himself and turning red.  Like your student, having to do work was usually the trigger. Now, impending work almost never triggers a tantrum.

Here’s my Love and Logic intervention to his work avoiding, attention seeking, control seeking tantrum. Like you, I see it coming after I have told him about writing a final draft for his rough draft, but I cut it off at the pass:

Kid: (anger building but contained) You mean… to tell me… that even though… I have written this entire letter… I HAVE TO WRITE IT ALL OVER AGAIN?


Kid Whisperer (whispered and smile):  Well, either that or you could throw a huge fit.

As the Kid Whisperer walks away, Kid makes a sound like a metal roller skate in a blender, followed by silence. The Kid Whisperer wonders if he broke the kid’s brain. Kid turns bright red. After kid has returned to a normal, human shade of pale, kid sighs and starts to work.

Do you see what I did? I responded to the incoming tantrum tsunami by not satisfying any of the three functions of the behavior.

1)      Attention Seeking:  I whispered and gave it minimal attention.

2)      Control Seeking: I gave him permission to throw a fit, thereby stopping the kid from taking control from me: I gave him the control before he could take it.

3)      Work Avoiding: The fun thing about challenging kids is that they don’t usually have a lot of skills that they use to get their way. They are just really great at using a few. So when you render a kid’s skill useless, the kid often has nothing else! This child had used up his one skill. Once he did this, he still had work in front of him, to which he then surrendered (more on increasing the probability that he will do work in the next blog post).

At first, a kid may still throw a fit even when you give permission for the fit. The kid figures that if he gets worse (i.e., louder and angrier), he can still get you to enter into a control grabbing power struggle. If he does, just use the Love and Logic response of continuing to give permission for the tantrum:

Kid is on the ground pounding his fists into the grounding and yelling. As usual, the rest of the class is ignoring him.

Kid Whisperer: Oh man, I see you are pounding your fists. Feel free to do some kicking too if that helps. 

Kid Whisperer walks away.

I hope this helps! Stay tuned for part two of my answer regarding how to get your student to do his work!

-The Kid Whisperer


How to Get Kids to Do Schoolwork

Dear Kid Whisperer,

                I have a (generally) well behaved 4th grade class, but I have one student who has serious anger issues. He gets angry, especially when he has to do work. I can see it coming a mile away.  I always tell him that he could do the work if he just tried. This has had no effect.  When he doesn’t have a tantrum and just does it, he’s actually done before a lot of other kids, which I always tell him. He’s very smart. His parents have sent him to therapy because of his anger. It has not helped at all. In fact, things have gotten worse since the therapy started. How do I get him to not throw a fit and just do the work?          

Amy, Kansas City, Missouri

Dear Amy,

So here is the second part to your question. I showed you how to get him to stop throwing a fit, now I can show you how to get him to do the work. In reality, we have already spoken about this, but for the general public, I am going to re-post the following blog entry from 2011. Enjoy, everyone!

Thanks for the question. First of all, you are not alone. I get this question often from both teachers and parents. It can be so frustrating to try to get a kid to do his work. Be glad though that this child (let’s call him Darius) has put you through a quality, year-long training regimen aimed at making you fully understand an essential truism about teaching, management of human beings and about life: you cannot make another person do anything they don’t want to do (at least not legally). When a child is faced with work and they say “I don’t want to to do it and you can’t make me”, they are absolutely right! You can’t. So guess what?

Don’t try.

Your frustration comes from trying to control something that you can’t control. So stop.

BUT, you say, I have to get this kid to learn the material! I can’t just give up!!!

I fully agree. We’re not giving up. we’re just going to start doing things that work instead of doing things that don’t work. Sound good? Here we go.

So here’s the bad news: what you did last year to get Darius to work was not just worthless, it made it less and less likely that he would do the work. It sounds like you made it a habit of getting into control battles to try to “force” him to work, which is an impossible task. Perhaps you lectured him about the importance of doing work, perhaps you bribed him, maybe you used anger or threats. I’m going to suggest that you no longer use any of these strategies. Think about how much time and energy this will save you!

First of all, when trying to create an environment where the optimal amount of learning takes place, we will start with the baseline assumption:

All kids have no interest in learning things.

Is this true? Obviously not. But instead of thinking ridiculous things like “all kids want to learn for the sake of learning and will work hard to achieve this”, we start with a more realistic expectation. That way we can create a quality learning environment without silly beliefs about child motivation that will ultimately lead to disappointment.

So instead of forcing kids to do work, which we agree is impossible, we are going to create a situation in the classroom where it will truly behoove him to do work, where he will have immediate, real-world reinforcement for hard work the moment he is done with his work, the same way you and I are reinforced to work hard. For example, when I get done with this blog, I am going to watch a movie while I eat ice cream. While I like blogging, I prefer to eat ice cream and watch movies, so I am currently working harder than I otherwise would if finishing this would only lead to more work.

By the way, we are not only changing the way work is presented to Darius, we are changing the way work is presented to your entire class.

Instead of doing activities or doing “centers”, whenever your class is to be engaged in independent work, you will have “workshop” time. Workshop is simpler, easier and more effective than any other way of managing independent work and, most importantly, the structure of workshop reinforces hard work, letting you be the neutral scorekeeper instead of the angry coach.

Here’s how it works: explain that every day after learning a concept, your students will have an opportunity to have workshop. They will have “Must Do” activities and “Can Do” activities written on the board. “Must Do” activities will be assignments that relate to a standard that has recently been taught. “Can Do” activities must relate to a grade level standard, but often are a bit more fun for kids: math or phonics games, an opportunity to write a letter to Justin Bieber, etc. The trick is that the students can only do their “Can Do” activities once they have finished their “Must Do” activities.

A couple of quick tips to create a quality workshop environment:

Start slowly: in first grade, I start the year with one “Must Do” and one “Can Do”. It looks like this:

Must Do
Make an Alphabet Book: Letters A and B

Can Do

Slowly add both Must Do’s and Can Do’s as the kids get more comfortable with the structure and they are more able to handle the additional responsibilty and freedom that having more activities necessitate. By the end of the year the board would look something like this:

Must Do
Finish your poem
Math pages 342 and 343
Write homework assignments in agenda

Can Do
Play Chunks
Play Chunks Stackers
Play Tally Mark Challenge
Play Number Squeeze
Free Write

This structure can be used at any grade level. I even use it when I teach college courses!

A few tips to create a successful workshop environment:

Monitor Effectively: Make sure that kids aren’t doing Can Do’s before they are done with their Must Do’s. My students know that they have to “get a smiley face” from me before they can do a Can Do, which means that I have put a smiley on their paper and I have checked them off in my grade book.

Make sure that the work is truly differentiated appropriately: This is especially important with the kids who are the most stubborn about doing work. Often, kids won’t do work because they can’t do the work. This sounds obvious but a lot of teachers will be stubborn themselves by thinking “He’s in “x” grade, he should be able to do this”, when really, he can’t. What’s more, you should be giving the kids who are the most stubborn about doing work  individualized Must Do’s that are actually too easy for them so that you know that they will be able to feel that feeling of success. I have seen it over and over: I give a kid who has never done a lick of work in his life a Must Do or two that he can actually do, he finishes it, gets to his Can Do’s at the same time or before most of his classmates, feels successful and becomes immediately addicted to that feeling of being successful. He then works to get that feeling for the rest of the year. Make sure the Must Do is easy, but not so easy that he is being insulted. As his confidence in his ability to do work grows, slowly increase the difficulty of the work. At the beginning of the year, specifically the first three weeks, everyone’s must do’s should be relatively easy, thus building everyone’s confidence and comfort in the new surroundings. As the year goes along, you can experiment with private workshop folders for kids who need differentiated Musts Do’s based on ability level. Slowly increase the difficulty of the work as the child’s confidence increases. This is a good idea for kids who have higher ability levels as well. Regardless of ability level, scaffold appropriately so that the child doesn’t reach frustration level!

Up the Ante: Occasionally, put a question mark under “Can Do’s”. At some point, as the kids move from Must Do’s” to Can Do’s, erase the question mark and write in another extra cool Can Do. It could be something like “Get a Drink” or “Read with Keisha’s mom”. If you have another licensed staff member available, you could add “Recess with Mrs. Johnson” so kids can choose to go outside when they are done with their Must Do’s, leaving you with just a few kids who need a bit more help.These kids can choose to go to recess once their Must Do’s are done. By the way, how motivated do you suppose those kids are while their classmates are out playing kickball, they are working and they know they can choose to have recess when they are done with their Must Do’s?

In short, workshop creates a real world structure that reinforces hard work while teaching kids the inherent value of work without, anger, frustration, lectures, warnings or threats. The simple message: when you get done with your work, you can do things that you’d rather be doing!

Now it’s time for Transformers and butter pecan!

-The Kid Whisperer

How to Be Calm When Everything Kids Do Drives You Crazy

Kid Whisperer’s note: I have been away from the blogging, as many of you have noticed. As it turns out, my seventeen month old daughter has been completely unhelpful in my blogging endeavors and, at times, actively interferes with my attempts at answering your disciplinary queries. I did not see this coming. Also, I have been working on a major project that will be announced in the coming weeks.  Enjoy!


Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am a nagging, mean teacher. At least that is how I feel most days. I arrive every day thinking to myself “OK, I’m going to be nice today”. I say it to myself during the morning, and it’s almost comical; literally two seconds later a kid does something and I either yell or talk through my gritted teeth or I’ll use sarcasm or some other useless idea. I know none of it works, but I just have these knee-jerk reactions. I’m in the middle of my first year of teaching and I’m starting to think that I have wasted the last five years of my life. Ugh, I want to stop reacting with anger, but how?                                       

                                                                                                          -Eva, Pittsburgh, PA


I feel for you. I have always said that being nice to one kid is human nature, and being nice to twenty five kids is a skill. It sounds like you have a very high control need, just like me. I have a need for all behaviors to be perfect, and I feel frustration when we don’t achieve this perfection. I used to be like you: reacting with frustration and anger when kids acted out. Even as I learned Love and Logic® skills, I would get angry, which made the kid angry. Then she’d get even more angry, etcetera, etcetera.  I have lots of Love and Logic strategies for dealing with this. I’m just going to show you one today. It’s called Specific Positive Noticing (SPN).

I learned about Specific Positive Noticing from the master educator Bob Sornson. You use this as an intervention when a kid is doing something annoying that does not yet need a consequence. This could be something like a kid being out of his seat at an inappropriate time, or talking when he shouldn’t.


There are two deadly mistakes that teachers make with these kinds of behaviors. Some teachers will think something like “well, he’s not making too big of a problem, I’ll just let it slide”. Of course, this leads to the kid then testing further: talking louder or causing some other problem that now requires even more time and effort by the teacher. From listening to your issues, I can gather that this is not the brand of mistake that you make. You overreact and get into a power struggle with the child. Feel free to try some specific positive noticing instead.

The next time a child is exhibiting a low level negative behavior, do what I do and SPN ‘em! It would look like this:

Kid #1 is nowhere near his seat and is perusing the contents of the new fairy tale book bin.

 Kid Whisperer (turning to three kids doing their work): I notice how Tonia is sitting down and working hard. I notice how Austin got right down to work. I notice Daquan using his resources to find the meaning of a word.

Here’s the trick: while this is a highly effective way to get Kid #1 to stop exhibiting a low-level negative behavior, stopping the behavior is not the primary objective in your case, Eva. The primary objective is for this SPNing to calm YOU down. It makes you focus on the positive and say the positive things you see out loud. It will lower your blood pressure and make you calmer.

*Notice, that this is not praise. Praise often has some negative effects on children with trust issues. We are simply noticing positive behavior. We are never ending our positive noticing with “…and that’s great!”

Remember that this is only one skill. Keep coming back for more!

-The Kid Whisperer

How to Get Your Students Quiet During Silent Sustained Reading

Dear Kid Whisperer,
I’m a first grade teacher and I have  a question about small group time. Every year during reading group time (while I’m sitting with my small group) I have a hard time with voice control. I must admit that we do reading group time for an hour and so 30 minutes is independent work time, 15 minutes with me and 15 minutes on the computer. So sometimes I feel like I may be asking them to work silently for too long. However, what are some tips and tricks that can help them either work silently or at least quietly during this time so I’m not nagging them about this? Thanks!

– Natalie, Meridian, Idaho

Dear Natalie,

Thank you for the excellent question!Most K-12 education involves some kind of silent reading. Whether your reading program calls it Silent Sustained Reading, Silent Reading, Independent Reading or Drop Everything And Read (DEAR), the most challenging part of facilitating this important part of our curricula for most teachers is to make sure the reading is truly silent. This is especially true when you are working with small groups.

Part of my job as a third grade teacher is to facilitate up to an hour of silent reading while meeting with small reading groups. We build up to that length. We start with fifteen minutes and build to an hour by the twentieth day of school. Today we finished our ninth day of school. Not a single student spoke for the entire half hour. Interested to find out how I did that?

On the first day, I give my students the following instructions:

Kid Whisperer: Okay, friends. At the end of each day we will have Readers’ Workshop. We just learned some things in our minilesson that you will be discussing with each other when we are done. For the next fifteen minutes you will be reading silently. I will dismiss teams to silent reading whose eyes are silently on me.

That is all that I say about my expectations.

“But, wait,” you say. “That’s all you say? Aren’t they going to act out? Aren’t they going to talk? My students talk when I say something like that.”

My answer: I want them to talk.


Let me explain this by telling you the prayer I say silently after I give the directions.

Kid Whisperer: (To God) Lord, you may remember me. I’m the one who asks you every year for the University of Dayton men’s basketball team to please make the NCAA tournament. Yes, Scott Ervin. Hi. OK Lord,  please let these kids mess up so I can calmly place some limits on them. Please let them mess up so royally that there can be serious consequences so they can learn quickly so that I can do some teaching very soon. Thank you, Lord. Go Flyers.

As soon as I say the last word of my directions, my ears are open for any talking. I am up and wandering around. I stand next to children and get eye contact with kids who aren’t talking but look like they may start. The moment a child talks (yes!) I whisper the following to the student:

Kid Whisperer:Oh, man. Could you put your head down on your desk and listen to our silence? Thanks.

Sometime in the next thirty seconds to fifteen minutes, whichever is most convenient, I walk up to the child or say softly from afar:

Kid Whisperer: Thumbs up if you hear our silence and think you can do it.

The kid puts his thumb up

Kid Whisperer: Awesome. Good luck!

I then pray that he talks again so that I can repeat what I just did.

If the child does’t give a thumbs up, I simply tell them to feel free to join us whenever they think they can follow our rules.

Once there is no talking, and heads are up, I sit and read a book. I am currently reading “Be the Pack Leader” by Caesar Milan. I read in my chair as close to my students as possible. I drink a Diet Pepsi or a coffee to show how calm and relaxed I am. When necessary, I repeat what I have already outlined.  I do this for the first six to eight days of school in order to model the behavior I expect. Also, I get some time to relax!

If at any point there are several people talking and I feel that I am losing control of the room and that there is a general lack of respect for the expectation set, I thank my lucky stars and I say the following:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. This is sad. Readers’ Workshop only happens when things are going well. Everyone, please put your heads down. I’m going to read my book silently. Thanks.

I then sit and read my book for as long as I need to in order to keep calm and cool. Once I feel up to it, usually after five to six minutes, I say the following:

Kid Whisperer: Feel free to pick your head up and try being part of Readers’ Workshop. Good luck.

At that point you can repeat the single student consequence or the whole group consequence as often as is necessary. Don’t be afraid to “shut it down” for long periods of time if necessary.

One final point about putting heads down. A head being down must mean that the student’s head is over their desk and that their eyes cannot be seen from any angle. I model this. If a child does it wrong, I am thrilled and I say the following:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Looks like you need to practice having your head down.

This elongates the amount of time that they need to have their head down. If I have to say it more than once or a child has had a habitual problem with this in the past, I just mention that they will do some practicing later. At recess or after school, I have the student come in and practice putting his head down.

Natalie, I hope this helps. Feel free to ask me follow up questions on Facebook. Actually, that goes for everyone else out there.

Feel free to “Like” this and forward it to a friend!

                                                                                                                                                -The Kid Whisperer

How to Make Your Student Nametags Last All Year Long

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a kind of silly question. Your followers who are not teachers will probably think it’s really dumb. I teach 2nd Grade and every year I take a lot of time to get nice nametags and neatly adhere the nametags to their desks with clear contact paper. Invariably, three weeks into the school year, most of the nametags have been ripped up or picked at so much that it just looks terrible.  In the past, I have replaced them, but that becomes time consuming. Plus, I know I don’t want the students to think they can ruin things and that I will clean up after them. Is there anything that I can do to stop them from destroying their nametags?

-DJ, Kansas City, Missouri

Dear DJ,

It’s so funny that you ask this question because I had this exact problem for the first 11  years of my career in education. I finally came up with an awesome solution just last year.

Yes, it is SO annoying to have those pretty nametags looking just so and then having your students rip them up. Just like you, my students always tear them apart  in the first month or so. You can’t really blame them. It’s almost like a tic that a lot of kids have at that age. There’s that little line where the tape or contact paper ends. Oh, how satisfying it must be to use your fingernail to explore the stickiness of that tape! And how tempting it is to draw on the tape with a nice, sharp pencil…

…but I digress. Anywhoo, I actually get a yardstick and measure nametags to the millimeter so that they are perfectly centered on the desks. Therapy may be in order.

So after all of this OCD work, I always had kids destroying all of my, uh, diligent work. Yes, let’s use the word “diligent”. So here is how I permanently fixed the problem last year with one great consequence.

As kids don’t learn from warnings or lectures, I avoided them as I watched most of the students slowly tearing up their nametags. I never even told them not to tear them up. I was OK with it because I knew I had an ace in the hole. I had a perfect plan. Because of my perfect plan, I got excited when I watched them ravaging my perfectly measured nametags.

After three weeks, it was time to strike. After school one day, I took the time to replace fourteen injured nametags. By each new nametag,  I put a small piece of paper.  The paper looked like this:

When they came in the next day, they had a lot of questions:

Kid #1: What’s an invoice?

Kid Whisperer:It’s a bill that a person gets when another person does something for them. It shows how much money they owe.

Kid: #2: Why do some of us have invoices?

Kid Whisperer: Why do you think?

Kid #3: Because you fixed our nametags.

Kid Whisperer: Do we start sentences with “because”?

Kid #3:You gave us invoices because you fixed our nametags.

Kid Whisperer: Why do you suppose I did that?

Kid #5: You didn’t replace all of them. Only people who messed up their nametags got new ones. Mine is still perfect, and I didn’t get an invoice.

Kid Whisperer: So you guys are saying that if you ruin something that isn’t yours, you have to pay for it?

Kids: Yeah.

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Sounds good. Just know that I will be more than happy to replace any of my nametags, for a fee. You don’t even have to tell me that you messed it up, I’ll check all of them before I go home each night. Anyway, if everyone with an invoice could come up here with your four dollars, we can get this taken care of and move on with class.


Kid #6: (looking around at the other students) We.. don’t have four dollars.

Kid Whisperer: (surprised) Oh… really? Awkward. What are you guys going to do?

(No response)

Kid Whisperer: We’ll have to come up with an arrangement later… try not to worry about it.

Later that day at recess I invite all of the kids with invoices to come sit at their desks.

Kid Whisperer: Good news, friends. I figured out what you can do since you don’t have the four dollars. I have a ton of stuff that needs to be cleaned around here. Frankly I just don’t have the time to do it, so I’m going to pay you guys to do it. I’ll pay you eight dollars per hour. You’ll ‘work off” what you owe. How long will you have to work to earn three dollars?

Kid #7: A half hour.

Kid Whisperer: Do we use sentences or sentence fragments?

Kid #7: (huge eye-roll) We have to work for a half hour to earn three dollars.

Kid Whisperer: All right. No time like the present! Let’s start with picking up pieces  of trash and dirt from the floor…

After that half hour they shake my hand as I thank them for a job well done.

I only had one child destroy his nametag the rest of the year. He was quite lonely at recess working by himself.

DJ, I hope this helps. It’s not  a silly question, and I’m glad you asked it!

-The Kid Whisperer 

How to Get Your Students Quiet So You Can Teach

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am a third grade teacher. I have a lot of behavior issues in my class and I am looking forward to being done with the year. I feel like the most annoying issue that I have is simply that my students won’t be quiet when I have to teach. Specifically, when they are working, and I let them talk when they’re working, getting their  attention and getting their eyes on me is rarely very successful. It makes me very angry and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I’ve tried screaming and yelling, I’ve tried taking away their recess. Nothing works. I am out of options. I know this year is down the drain, but I don’t want to deal with this another year. Any ideas?

                                                                    -Kayla, Eugene, Oregon

Dear Kayla,

Nothing is more frustrating than feeling  that you don’t have the control necessary to make your students quiet enough to deliver instruction. It makes you think things like, “If I can’t get these kids to stop what they’re doing and listen to me, what the heck am I even doing here?!?” I certainly felt that way before learning the skill I’m about to show you.

It really does lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. I think only teachers truly know the depth of the frustation that this causes. Unfortunately, I am going to tell you something now  that, if you are not already aware of it, will make you feel much, much worse.

Students without hearing impairments who talk after they have been prompted to be quiet are doing so willfully and intentionally, and are purposely challenging-and in some cases disregarding- your authority to make them be quiet.

“Those jerks!” you say.

“I know!” I say.

Whenever you have a situation in which you feel like you have no control, you are probably making one very big mistake: you are trying to control that which you cannot control. This leads to you looking weak in front of your class and it makes you feel powerless. Next time, you could experiment with how I deal with this challenge. Notice that at no point do I use anger, lectures, warnings or threats. Also notice  that I never try to control anything that I can’t control. Here’s my Love and Logic(R) method for making sure kids are completely, 100% silent whenever I want them to be.

First, I have this conversation with my class on the first day of school:

Kid Whisperer: Friends, I have a bit of a problem. I was wondering if you could help me out with it.

Kids: Er, ok.

Kid Whisperer: From time to time this year, I am going to need everyone’s attention. I only speak when all of the students in the room have their eyes silently on me. The problem is that I hate bossing people around. I don’t like saying things like, ‘Be quiet!’ and, ‘Everyone look at me!’ I was thinking that you could come up with a secret code word that I could say that is silly or funny, but that would let you know that it is time to be quiet and have your eyes on me. How would that work for you all?

Kids: Uh, fine I guess.

Kid Whisperer: What would you like the secret code to be? Let’s come up with five possible codes and then we’ll vote.

Past codes in my class have included “Mucky Muck” and this year’s winner, “Goofy Goober.”  Make sure the code is at least three syllables. This will allow the students the time to quiet down while you finish saying the code. Hint: Say the code slower when the room is louder, but don’t greatly increase your volume. This will train their little ears to listen for the cue.


Kid Whisperer: OK, friends. So you’ve chosen ‘Goofy Goober.’  I’ll say that and that is your cue to be quiet with your eyes on me. We’re going to practice until we can get it right. First I’m going to have you all talk. Listen for the secret code. Here’s a topic: Justin Beiber is terrible. Go!

[the students talk for ten to twenty seconds]

Kid Whisperer: Goofy (slight pause) Goober.

We then practice this until we have three to four successful runs. I hope and pray that the kids are unsuccessful. Every time someone talks or doesn’t have their eyes on me I simply say “Oh man, I guess we need more practice, ” never bringing any  attention to those failing to comply. After about ten tries to get three or four perfect runs with our secret code words, I say this:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. Looks like we need to practice later. We need to get to some other things right now. No problem. Some classes need more practice than others.

Later, when it is time for recess, calmly invite them to sit down in their seats before going outside.

Kid Whisperer: OK, friends. Let’s practice until we get this right! We can practice as many times as we need to in order to get it perfect!

The students will practice until it is perfect. Again, I like to make sure they get it three to four times in a row. This will probably take five to ten to minutes. Hopefully, though, it takes longer. You can let them go out for recess as soon as they have perfected their new skill!

Here’s where, how and why we get to be extremely strict and calm for the  rest of the year. For the rest of the year, whenever you use the secret code and a student talks or doesn’t have their eyes on you, we don’t yell, warn, lecture or threaten. We simply repeat that same phrase “Oh, man. Looks like we need to practice later.” The students know that they all have an appointment with you at recess time.

A couple of hints:

1) Avoid any anger and frustration. Some kids would rather see an angry teacher and get into a power struggle than go out to recess.

2) Smile.

3) Make the expectations whatever you want. You may not need your students to look at you when you give the cue. If you don’t want it, don’t ask for it.

3) Fight the urge to lecture, warn or threaten. This includes warning them that they will have to stay in to practice at recess. Don’t ruin a perfectly good surprise!

Kayla, good luck with your class next year. I hope this helps!

-The Kid Whisperer