I Got My Sanity Back When I Stopped Giving Warnings

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Anyone else ever felt like banging their head against the wall after asking a child to do something 8 times? Maybe that’s a little dramatic. But seriously, this was something that drove me crazy as a teacher! I was suffering from broken-record syndrome. When I asked other teachers about it, they told me I should stop giving warnings about behavior and stop repeating directions. Their advice was to tell the kids once, then follow through.

But here’s the thing. I felt guilty giving a consequence after a child had only done something once. They’re just kids, right? I can’t expect them to be perfect. It’s not nice to give them a consequence right away. What I have learned since then is that it’s actually much more frustrating for everyone when adults give warnings and repeat directions.

Here’s what I didn’t realize at first. When I was repeating myself, my students slowly got the message that it wasn’t important to listen to me. After all, I would say the same thing again in a minute. They could catch it next time. I might as well have been background noise. 

Now, it’s probably pretty obvious that giving warnings and repeating directions is negative for adults, but what difference does it make to the kids?

Here are just a few benefits for the kids when adults don’t repeat themselves:

  • They can avoid tension with adults if adults just say it once.
  • Kids feel confident in what they can expect from authorities.
  • They will become responsible kids who will turn into valuable employees. Their bosses will love them because of their dependability!
  • Kids will think of themselves as go-getters who are valuable to society!

When I decided to stop repeating myself, the next big question was, what am I going to do if they don’t listen and how can I help them learn to listen? After some discussions with great coworkers, I was armed and ready with some new skills to use.

  • I said the following to my class, “I have been giving you directions over and over lately. This doesn’t help you to be great listeners though, so from now on, I will only give directions one time.”
  • I quickly learned that giving directions without their full attention was a worthless way to use my breath. Before giving instructions or explaining rules, I had to make sure they were all sitting quietly with their attention on me. I would sometimes say, “Alright, the next things I am going to say are veryimportant, and I’m only going to say them once.”
  • If a student didn’t listen, I showed empathy and followed through with a consequence. For example, if a student didn’t listen to the rules for a game, they didn’t get to play it that day. Of course that student would be frustrated, but he or she made sure to listen next time!
  • I would give silly direction challenges. My students loved trying to remember all the steps in a series of directions. Here is an example: stand up, spin 3 times, pat your head, then hop on one foot to your desk. I also did this with stories. I would tell a short story as I walked my class down the hallway. When we got to the classroom, I asked a few questions about the story to see how much they remembered. These little games helped them practice paying close attention to what I said.
  • I learned that there are different ways to giving warnings: repeating directions, explaining rules over and over, saying the child’s name with that tone of voice, and probably many more. I had to avoid all of these.

When I stopped giving warnings, I was able to facilitate some meaningful experiences for my students. One day I was doing a timed multiplication sheet with my class. We had been working on a challenge to finish 100 multiplication problems in 5 minutes. One of my students finished much sooner than he normally did. I walked over to his desk, and noticed that his paper was flipped over. He smiled at me, but something was a little off.

“Wow!” I said, “That was speedy!” He smiled. I flipped his page over to find that he had written a 1 on every answer! I crouched down next to him and whispered so only he could hear me. “Is this your best work?”

He hung his head. “No,” he admitted.

“We’ll fix this later.”

We had art time at the end of that day. After the other kids had started working on their projects, I pulled him aside. I explained that now he had a chance to show me his best work. I gave him a new worksheet and timed him again. He ended up doing really well on it the second time around! He told me that he felt proud of himself for the way he had done it this time. He never cheated in my class again.

When I saw that he had cheated on the first worksheet, I could have just warned him not to do it again. After all, this was the first time he had ever done anything like this. But what would he have learned from that? Nothing. Since I gave him a logical consequence without giving any warnings, he learned a valuable lesson. As an added bonus, he felt better about himself after fixing his mistake.

If you’re suffering from broken-record syndrome, fear not! There is a cure! It’s a hard habit to break, and I’m still working on it. But the better I get, the more sane I feel. Do yourself and your kids a favor and only say it once!

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  • Pamela
    9 months ago

    Oh my gosh, This advice came at the perfect time! I needed to hear this today. Let’s hope I only need to hear it once!!

  • Milan
    9 months ago

    Such a thoughtful post. I keep giving my kids warning without enforcing them strictly. Guess one firm warning , like u mean it, is enough.

    • firmhappymom
      9 months ago

      It’s so easy to get caught up in saying the same thing over and over. But yes, kids are smart. They really do only need to hear it once!

  • Amanda
    9 months ago

    I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall when I have to give warnings. I work in a daycare and we have twelve toddlers and just-past toddlers that don’t listen at all. I am definitely going to have to change the way I do things and save me the sanity. Thanks for a great read!

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