Do NOT date that boy. You better say 'no' at the party if your friends are drinking! Don't speed. You need to stop hangout out with her- she always gets you in trouble. Be in class on time! Stop talking back to your teacher.
How many times are these statements, or more so demands, followed long-term? If your experience is anything like mine– very few. Sometimes, you might get the immediate change in behavior but, as fate would have it, they go back to doing what they want. We can blame this on their lack of development in the pre-frontal cortex, we can blame the mantra that kids need to learn from mistakes, or we can even just label kids as "stubborn." In all honesty, there are bits of truth to each one of those factors, but we also have to know that we should be blaming our own techniques.
Kids (from toddler to young-adults) think they know what they want. They also have strong urges and impulses that occasionally leads them into trouble. We, the adults tasked with helping them become successful adults, also think we know what they want and should do. So what do we do- we communicate it out and set guidelines. Then we fall into the never-ending cycle of seeing kids repeat negative behaviors, not listen to our guidelines, and/or only listen for a short amount of time. The key to fix this is simple- you need to have kids be intrinsically motivated to do what's "right." Sounds easy enough? It really is when you use the technique of identifying cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance is defined as: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
Let's say you have a kid named Mark, I'm sure you all have ran into this kid before, and he wants to be a professional basketball player. You have three options when you get this little tidbit of information: 1) You can be super nice to Mark, because you want him to obviously remember his 6th grade math teacher when he's in the league. 2) You can shut this conversation down and have him shoot for something more realistic. 3) You remember this information like it's worth gold. If the fancy italicizing didn't give away too much- I hope you picked number three. Let's say you don't want Mark to hangout with Brad anymore, because Brad distracts him and is leading him down the wrong path. You can simply say, "Hey Mark- Brad is a bad influence. You aren't going to be successful if you hangout with him!" That seems pretty straight-forward and communicates the "why" but this doesn't work. We are stealing one of the most powerful gifts kids possess- creativity. Harness this creativity through the use of cognitive dissonance.
Let's try it– "Hey Mark- I've been thinking a lot about you and your dream of being a professional basketball player, and I really think you have a chance. I've been noticing that Brad doesn't have the same goal as you and seems to be leading you off-task a lot. I know that you have to go to college to play professional basketball, and you have to be successful in high-school to go to college. So how is hanging out with Brad going to help you be successful and go off to college?"
I used my tidbit of information about Mark's goal, set the conversation up with what I wanted to communicate without "preaching," and it only took two-minutes. Re-framing statements into open-ended questions that make the student/kid realize cognitive dissonance, is easy and it works. You now have unleashed their creative minds to connect the pieces (we sort of already did that but they feel more in control now), we gave them a voice to seek to understand if there is underlying factors, and we used their goal to leverage a behavior change. Kids take time to process new ideas- so let this re-framing sit and allow them to think about it. They now are behind the steering-wheel and driving their own bus. We sparked the thoughts of: 'If I want to be a professional basketball player- I have to go to college. If I want to go to college- I can't be getting distracted. I should focus on school and not Brad.'
Once this cognitive dissonance comes to light- the student now has the intrinsic motivation to change- without coercion and utilizing just a simple question.
For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out the international bestseller, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Also, check out our innovative behavior management system, BehaviorFlip, that combines restorative practices, PBIS, recognizing resiliency through growth-mindset, and amplifying student voice to help build a culture of respect and responsibility.