The Surprising Truth About Winning Power Struggles with Students Every
Sep 20, 2008 Classroom Management 4000 Views
Here's the absolute, no-fail way to win every power struggle with every kid every time: Don't struggle for power. Think about it. The minute an adult wrestles with a kid for power, they've immediately lost. And, the younger the child, the more true that statement becomes. To give you an image, you want to take your "sails" out of their wind, so to speak. Here are some specific tips and tricks to use instead of getting caught up in the "Yes, you will"-"No, I won't" battles when everybody loses.
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*** It's Fun to Torture Adults: For many youngsters, it can seem like sport to "trap" an adult in a power struggle. What better way to get out of doing what you are supposed to be doing than to debate it? For example, if you run a counseling group, you may notice that it seems impossible to get some youngsters to come to group on time. Instead of taking group time to debate if "the bus was late" is a satisfactory excuse, turn it over to the group. The group may decide, for example, to have the latecomer clean up after the group is over, a natural consequence of inconveniencing the group members. Notice the issue switches from being an adult-kid issue to a kid-to-kid issue. Once your group has set a standard policy, never waste time debating again.
*** BONUS TIP: Set an on-going limit on how long you'll discuss compliance issues. Your youngsters will know that they have only a brief time frame, and that this time can not be during group or class time, but on their own time.
*** Meet the Bickersons: Teach kids about the "bicker- backs", when people get into a griping match. Teach them how to spot the "bickers" and to stop the "backs". They'll learn that you won't bickerback and will give up attempting to bicker with you. This is a great device to give to families.
*** BONUS TIP: Teach kids "Ask once, you're assertive, ask thrice, you're aggressive." This saying can become a common comment that youth use with each other, relieving you of some of the chore of confronting coercive behavior.
*** When Do You Let Them Have It?: We got that question recently in our workshop from a teacher who wanted to know a "really good put-down" to stop the bickering and clowning. This question was easy. You don't ever "let them have it." There is never a circumstance when it is okay to demean a child. Channel the child instead. For example, working with a class clown can be a battle as the child debates whether comments were "appropriate" or not. A fun approach is to ask the class clown to morph the comment for different audiences, such as for the boss on the job you really want. You are assisting the child to gain skill in adapting content to fit different circumstances, rather than focusing on squelching what could be a terrific asset for the long run. Successfully teaching the child to channel the humor can help the child become a wonderful team member in the work place, someone who can lighten up tense and difficult situations with appropriate humor.
*** BONUS TIP: Have your class or group establish rules about the number of talk-outs per hour, and to create a standing policy about what to do when problems occur. Without a recommended number for kids to follow, some won't be able to discern a reasonable number on their own. Young people need practice providing self-governance; most adults don't need that practice. With this intervention, not only do you shift the problems away from being adult-kid to kid-kid, but you are aiding your kids to practice essential self-management skills.
*** Defiance, Coercion and Acceptance: As you work to discern what to do in situations that could easily become power struggles, avoid coercing kids, and putting their backs to the wall so defiance becomes one of the few options left. The more you can use acceptance to find a mutually agreeable middle ground, the more success you will have with children and youth who would otherwise power struggle.
*** BONUS TIP: Be sure you know a lot about conduct disordered youth, your most hard-to-manage children. If you do not know this child "backwards and forwards, inside and out", and how to work with this youth completely differently than everyone else, you will be very vulnerable to being entangled in power struggles for control and safety. Because conduct disorders are very slick and manipulative, you may not even fully appreciate exactly what is going on. There is no quick strategy to just disarm this youth. You must take the time to learn about their operating system and acquire the special set of techniques needed. You need to ensure you know all about this youth who may be 11-15% or more of your population.