We all know that changing habits takes time and effort. Backsliding and even appearing worse than before are normal patterns to expect since our behavior tends to resort to what we’re most comfortable with—that’s why habits are also so difficult to change. Don’t despair and never give up! You can help students learn more respectful behavior by slowly replacing their own disrespectful habits. These next techniques show you ways to replace the older habits with newer, more appropriate ones. The most important rule for your success is this: “Be Consistent.”
1. Draw awareness to disrespect. Disrespect quickly breeds disrespect. Casually mention, “Remember, we only say respectful words.” Some teachers use a private code or signal between themselves and certain students. Each time the students says a disrespectful comment, the teacher says a word such as “Zap!” or uses a quiet signal (such as raising one finger) as a reminder to stop.
Often students are not aware of how many disrespectful statements they are saying. One way to bring them to this awareness is to use a simple tally system or to use tokens (i.e. marbles, poker chips, pegs). A student holds the tokens in his left pocket, and whenever he makes a disrespectful statement, a token is transferred to the right pocket. Often just one reminder will get the message across.. The key to this activity is to keep the tallying private. It should never be published for other students to see.
2. Label disrespect…Call it! Students need to recognize disrespectful put-downs by saying a code word or making a sound immediately back to the sender. The code should be agreed upon by all students so that they recognize it. Words such as “disrespectful putdown,” “pricklie,” “zinger” or sounds such as “ouch,” “Buz-z-z-“ will help the student recognize that the statement was inappropriate.
3. Teach skills to defuse disrespect. If the objective is to squelch disrespect, then it is critical to teach everyone to take the same steps in handling disrespectful actions. “Defuser” skills can calm disrespectful behaviors before they detonate into a full explosion (usually physical or verbal retaliation). Make it a rule that disrespectful statements are not allowed. Whenever a put-down is said, teach the rule that the sender must then change the put-down into a “put-up.” The rule is: One Put-Down = One Put-Up or One Disrespectful Statement = One Respectful Statement. In some situations this rule is even more stringent: For every put-down there must be three put-ups. Whatever the number, the rule must be consistently enforced to be effective.
Teaching skills to replace negativity is so important. Many of our students are locked into disrespectful, inappropriate behavior patterns simply because they don’t know what to do instead. Asking them to “Be more respectful” has no value if they do not know how to demonstrate the skills of respect or kindness. These skills need to be taught. Keep in mind, however, that new behaviors take a tremendous amount of repetition and commitment before they can replace the older, more comfortable habits. Students will slip back easily into older disrespectful behavior patterns unless the newer skills of respect are continually reinforced and practiced. Consistency and reinforcement are critical. Don’t give up, though! Respectful attitudes are contagious.
Dr. Michele Borba is an internationally-recognized educational psychologist who has presented workshops to well over a million parents and teachers. She is an honorary board member for Parents and frequent guest on TV and NPR talk shows including Today, The Early Show, The View and Fox & Friends. Author of 20 books, this article is adapted from Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, selected by Publishers’ Weekly list of “among the most noteworthy of 2001.” Her latest book is 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids. To find out more about her work check out: http://www.moralintelligence.com.