Explaining a Consequence to A Child Who Isn’t Listening.

Z.and his Mom came to see me because he was upset after his teacher had kept him from going out at recess several times recently. Z. had received the consequence for refusing to follow a basic rule of the school. At the end of lunch hour when a teacher blew a whistle telling students to “freeze: in place” before listening to some brief announcements and getting on line to return to class Z. had run around,”become goofy,” and been generally disruptive.

When Z. visited my office I listened to him complain about his “unfair punishment” for quite a while before asking if there was a reason for the consequence.

Z. seemed to have a legitimately hard time understanding that anything he had done contributed to the problem even though many people (his teacher, lunch time staff, and Mom and Dad) had repeatedly talked to him about his behavior.

Knowing Z. to be a smart and caring child I decided to use my array of stuffed animals to help him think through his dilemna. Scattering the minature creatures over my office floor I explained that these toys were going to be like the children in his school at the end of lunch. Handing Z. a small xylophone I asked him to play a few notes when it was time for the “students” to line up. He happily complied.

The “children” cooperated for a while and Z. enjoyed making announcements and getting the bears and bunnies to their classrooms on time. Then I made one rowdy stuffed rabbit run around and refuse to quiet down. Disconcerted by the uncooperative “student” Z. could see how one person’s “fun” could cause problems for the group and looked at me knowingly.

“Now that you understand the rule, do you think you will be able to stand still when the teacher blows the whistle?” I asked. “No,” he said honestly.

“I think you could if we practice” I replied. Taking the xylophone from Z. I played notes asking him to “freeze” when I did. After a few minutes of review he kept perfectly still on cue.

Our talk took an hour but by the end Z. was proud and surprised that he was accomplishing this relatively simple exercise in self discipline.

The next day Z. went into school and explained to his friends that it was a good idea to stand still when the whistle blew, showing them how to do it.

Sometimes it helps to patiently explain the “obvious” to children in a calm and respectful tone (often understandably hard for parents to do while juggling the many pressures of family life). However whenever possible patient and caring dialogues can reduce upset and build confidence for parents and young people.