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Why is too much emotion destructive? Don't people today tell you to "let it all hang out" and show your feelings? "Express yourself and don't keep it all inside" is the advice of the moment.
Is this a good suggestion if you are working with children? One-half of it is good advice and the other half is not. The good half is this: If you are feeling positively toward a child, by all means let it show. Praise your students for their constructive and conscientious behavior and give them a pat on the shoulder. This kind of action helps with Step 3 of the discipline job: maintaining healthy relationships with your children.
The bad half of the don't-keep-it-all-inside advice, though, applies to times when you are irritated or angry with a child. "Letting it all hang out" at these moments can be a problem, because when we adults are mad we often do the wrong thing. Angry adults can yell, scream, belittle and nag. 1-2-3 Magic is as much a control on adult anger as it is a control on children's behavior. Uncontrolled expression of any teacher's aggravation is not a good idea.
There is another reason why too much emotion can interfere with effective teaching. When they are little, kids feel inferior. They feel inferior because they are inferior. They are smaller, less privileged, less intelligent, less skillful, less responsible and less of just about everything than adults and older kids. And this "lessness" bugs them a lot. They don't like it. They do like to feel they are powerful and capable of making some mark on the world.
If you watch two-year-olds, you will see that they want to be like the five-year-olds, who can do more neat things. The five-year-olds, in turn, want to be like the ten-year-olds. And the ten-year-olds want to be like you; they want to drive cars and use credit cards! They want to have some impact on the world and to make things happen.
Have you ever seen a small child go down to a lake and throw rocks in the water? Children can do that for hours, partly because the big splashes are a sign of their impact. They are the ones causing all the commotion.
What does throwing rocks in the water have to do with what happens in school? Simple. If your little pupil can get big old you all upset, your upset is the big splash for him. Getting you upset makes the child feel powerful. His reacting this way does not mean that he has no conscience and that he is going to grow up to be a professional criminal. It's just a normal childhood feeling: Having all that power temporarily rewards- or feels good to-the inferior part of the child. Teachers who say, "It drives me absolutely crazy when she taps her pencil constantly!! Why does she do that?!" may have already answered the question. She may do that-at least partly-because it drives the teachers crazy.
An important rule is this: If you have a child who is doing something you don't like, get very upset about it on a regular basis and, sure enough, she'll repeat it for you. You will get more of what you pay attention to, so it is important to minimize the attention paid to negative behavior and maximize the attention paid to positive behavior.
When it comes to discipline, therefore, it is important to be consistent, decisive and calm. So what we recommend in 1-2-3 Magic is that you apply-during moments involving conflict or discipline-what we call the "No-Talking and No-Emotion" rules. Since we're all human, these two rules really mean very little talking and very little emotion. This point, though, is absolutely critical to your effectiveness. There are discipline systems other than the 1-2-3, but you will ruin any of them by talking too much and getting too excited. These two mistakes, of course, usually go hand in hand, and the emotion involved is usually anger.
teachers can turn off the talking and the emotional upset like a faucet, especially
once they see how effective it is to keep quiet at the right times. Other adults
need to practice looking bored or disinterested when their kids are acting up.
And still other adults have to ferociously bite their tongues to get the job done.
We once saw a T-shirt that had this printed on the front: "Help me-I'm talking
and I can't stop!" Lots of teachers have to remind themselves over and over
and over again that talking, arguing, yelling and screaming actually make things
worse in the classroom. These "tactics" merely blow off steam for a
few seconds. If, after a month to six weeks of using 1-2-3 Magic, you find that
you can't shake these troublesome habits, it may be time for a friendly consultation
with the school psychologist, social worker or an outside therapist.
Reflection Exercise #9
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