What is the difference between waiting out a student’s misbehavior versus getting into a power struggle?
The mindset of a power struggle is, “I have to control the child to make them behave.” This mindset can result in the following behavior on the part of the adult:
- Use of anger to evoke shame to change the student’s behavior,
- Use of lectures and threats, and/or
- Adding on punitive consequences.
Many students know how to wait out the adults versus the other way around with the adult waiting out the student. The child knows that if they throw a temper tantrum and refuse long enough, the adult may eventually give in. For this reason, many children have been trained to extend their temper tantrums until they get what they want while not being compliant with the adult’s direction.
Why is this harmful to the child? The temper tantrum stops and the child gets what they want, so what’s the big deal? When the adult gives in to the temper tantrum or allows a child to refuse to follow a direction, it is damaging the relationship in several ways. It sends the implicit message to the child that they are weak and unable to manage their behavior. The child then loses faith in themselves and respect for the adult in charge. Without this mutual respect, the child loses out on a healing connection with the adult. Adults are responsible for creating a safe, consistent, and secure environment that is conducive to a healing relationship between adult and child that allows the child to mature. A mature child thinks and cares not only for themselves but for others.
Without this follow through, children may get stuck in an earlier developmental stage and remain immature. Children who always get what they want can develop personalities that are selfish and egocentric. Children do not learn to manage their frustration, accept limitations, and develop healthy coping skills when adults give in to their misbehavior. When children have poor coping skills, it limits their ability to access the world around them. Inappropriate behavior interferes with the ability to take care of basic needs like shopping for oneself, getting a job, keeping a job, building and maintaining friendships, and having a social life. Lacking the ability to care for oneself or long-term friendships can leave the child unhappy and lonely.
Waiting it Out
As adults, we want to learn how to wait out a child’s tantrum in a way that helps them learn how to behave and follow adult rules, while also maintaining the relationship between the adult and child. Waiting it Out requires a mindset of: “I have faith that the child can figure this out!” When we have this mindset and are working with children, it is more likely to result in the adult:
- Calmly waiting for the child to follow the expectations,
- Having a calm body and mind (no anger, lecture, or threats), and
- Using “tea talk” as appropriate (as covered in the book) or remaining silent.
This technique requires a strong teaching team and having a behavior plan in place. Teams also understand that temper tantrums and refusal are part of learning and growth and not something to appease. Waiting it out does not mean the student gets to do whatever they want. Rather it means you remove the audience, and allow the child to be angry, bored, or emotional until they are ready to follow adult directions. Waiting it out is often done away from the classroom (in an office, safe room, designated time out area, etc.) so the teacher can continue teaching. The adult should not give emotional energy to the child, so no talking to the child, don’t look directly at them, etc. The adult supervises, and as much as possible, works on other things (paperwork, emails, etc.) until the child follows directions. The child does not move on with their day until they have followed the original expectation.
Many of the children we work with are stuck at a lower stage in their conscience development, so they need adults who are willing to wait them out until they comply. The child will become more mature as they follow the adult’s expectations.
When children learn to follow healthy adult directions (as reviewed in the compliance section of our book), the child understands their place in the world. They are more likely to feel that their world is safe and orderly, and they can trust adults. An orderly world helps a child feel secure and free to explore within the appropriate limits and boundaries of their maturity. Also, with consistent responses and follow through by an adult, the child learns cause-and-effect thinking, which helps with future decision making. When a child can handle limits and boundaries by an adult, they can generalize this to relationships with their peers. They are then more likely to be successful in peer relationships. In the long run, children are happier and more successful when adults wait their tantrums out.