Winning Class Control Through Language: Disciplining with Persuasion and Suggestions

The Psycho-Educational Teacher
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On his classic, “How to Influence Children: A Handbook of Practical Child Guidance Skills” Schaefer (1994) defines a suggestion as bringing a thought or an idea to the child’s mind for consideration. A suggestion carries no pressure to comply, for instance, “You might want to consider this…” or “Maybe if we tried this way…” The author adds, “A blend of encouragement, positive suggestion, and persuasion is the act of attributing to children a positive quality of behavior where there is only the slightest evidence that they actually posses it. In other words, you attempt to inspire children to behave in a positive way by suggesting that they are already behaving that way to some degree.” (p. 167) Examples of suggestions we can use with our students are:  If you really try hard, you will do better. Everyone who has tried very hard has done better the second time, and I am sure you can too.  You seem much stronger than you have ever been.

You can start with a request you know the child will reject. (Adapted from Schaefer. for example. do you?” 4. 1994) To increase children’s compliance with our persuasive messages and suggestions. Use either/or questions. “What would you rather do _____ or _____?” Freedom of choice questions are stated regularly as “either/or” questions.  (Messy sloppy) At heart. 6. Our class is clean and does not litter. Use indirect suggestions. you are really an orderly child. asking the child to read only the first three pages of the chapter. For example. You are really asserting yourself lately. “From what you are saying.. and once she complies.  I know you are going to be very brave. you feel that the best way to settle this issue is for you to ask Devon to return your sharpener.g. you really stuck for your rights this time. I get the feeling that you really want to settle this issue with Justin. For example. for example. For example. followed by a second request that requires less effort.” With an indirect suggestion. I know you will do the right thing. you might say. some guidelines adapted from Schaefer (1994) and from Schaefer and Millman (1994) are: 1. Do not phrase your requests negatively (e. Persuade the student to make a larger commitment by asking for a smaller commitment first. we strengthen an idea that is already present in . The way you just held your ground with Ricky tells me that you will not be pushed around so easily anymore. “Do you want to read one story or two?” 5.  (Shy child) Boy. 3. do you?”). State your requests using positive language. not yours. I know you want to keep things neat and orderly so that you can find them. “You want to finish reading this story.   Your desk seems cleaner lately. we ask her to finish reading the chapter. “You do not want finish reading this story. 2. Use freedom of choice to influence the child in feeling that what she is doing is her own idea.

you are making apparent to the child what he wants and how the new behavior is going to help him in . desires. Link the positive behavior with one of the child’s needs. for a messy class. It is important that you point out positive aspects of the target behavior from the child’s perspective.g. For example. To change a student’s (or class) low self-image. This persuasive technique is known as attributing positive qualities. 12. keep repeating the same positive and optimistic message until it becomes true. for several days. saying. 7. Use persuasive appeals. Three or more times a day. However. for example. Present your recommendations as tentative suggestions. happiness or pride). for example. “You might want to think about _____” or “Maybe if you try it this way…” 8. for example. although we may have only minimal evidence of what the child is thinking. and reward the target behavior when you see it in a student or the class. our “evidence” should not be too discrepant from reality. This technique can do wonders if you present the positive quality in small increments.” 13. not from the teacher’s perspective. to have fun. to be a “good child. 10. Here. You can help develop positive and more constructive ideas and suggestions in the child’s mind by saying. or to be mature). To do this. we keep telling them that they are becoming neater and tidy every day.” to be well liked. or values (e. Your suggestion should carry no pressure to comply. You can influence positive change and reduce negative and/or disruptive behaviors using positive labeling. so that you give the student the opportunity to accept or reject your suggestion. feelings (e. to be smart. “Have you considered _____ yet?” 9. make an “I like…” comment about the target behavior.” 11. Use interspersed suggestions by changing the tone of your voice or talking slower to emphasize key ideas.g.g. “Your mom is going to love it when she hears that you finished all your work today. keeping their desks organized). select a behavior that you would like to see more in your students (e.the child’s mind. so that the child or class gets the message that today they are “a little bit neater than yesterday” and tomorrow they will be “a little bit neater than today.

NJ: Jason Aronson. you can show them what a fun person you are.getting what he wants. weakening any opposition that the child may have to the command. (1994). E. NJ: Jason Aronson. In persuasive discipline. pay special attention to the phrases in italics… Those are the hidden commands. You like reading about asteroids. everybody will want to be friends with you.  When you no longer hit other children. C. How to influence children: A handbook of practical child guidance skills. you are increasing the value of changing his behavior by associating the change to something that the child wants or needs. This way. In a hidden command or suggestion. the other words in the sentence and/or the paragraph hide the command. References Schaefer. C. this book looks interesting.  If you keep hitting other children. (Second Edition).E. Reread the sentences with bullets presented above. (1994). Schaefer. & Millman. Northvale.. 14. Maybe you are wondering what this book is about. H. Then. but this time. . nothing is more powerful in influencing children’s behavior than using hidden commands and hidden suggestions. nobody will want to play with you. Northvale. How to help children with common problems. consequently. That looks like the smart thing to do. You are going to feel lonely. Some examples:    I know you will have fun doing this.

includes ten years teaching emotionally disturbed/behaviorally disordered children and four years teaching students with a learning disability or low cognitive functioning. “The Psycho-Educational Teacher. “Persuasive Discipline: Using Power Messages and Suggestions to Influence Children Toward Positive Behavior” visit Carmen’s blog. Carmen has a bachelor’s degree in psychology (University of Puerto Rico) and a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in emotional disorders (Long Island University. resource room teacher. in New York City and her native Puerto Rico. has more than twenty years of experience as a self-contained special education teacher. The Psycho-Educational Teacher.About the Author Carmen Y. Reyes. Carmen is the author of 60+ books and articles in child guidance and in alternative techniques for students with low academic skills. She also has extensive graduate training in psychology (30+ credits). Carmen has taught at all grade levels. Her classroom background. She is an expert in the application of behavior management strategies. from kindergarten to post secondary. . and educational diagnostician. Brooklyn: NY). and in teaching students with learning or behavior problems.” To preview her books and download the free eguide. You can read the complete collection of articles on Scribd or her blog.

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