Saturday, July 28, 2012

No, You Can't use the Word "No"

When I was in grad school, we often discussed new methods in classroom management, teaching styles, etc.  One of the things we talked about a lot was how to handle discipline. A trending technique was to avoid any negative wording of rules. You essentially took the word "No" out of your vocabulary so that the students would not feel as though they are being restricted and therefore rebel. Instead, you made them feel as though they had options to choose to do the right thing.  So, instead of writing, "No talking," you would write, "Please sit and work quietly at your desk."

In my first year of teaching, I was so eager to try this out! It sounded so reasonable and practical. I felt I could understand how saying, "No" might make a student feel defiant.  So, I carefully listed all of my rules in a more positive tone.  The only one I really couldn't avoid was, "No Gum." Perhaps I could have said, "Keep gum out of the classroom." However, I felt that was a straightforward rule. Well I posted the rules this way and I did my best to request behavior without just saying no. All I can say, after my experience with it, is that it didn't work. Avoiding that word didn't make a difference. In fact, I noticed that students often responded to the word, "No" better. They had boundaries set. Whether you say "No sleeping in class" or "Please keep your eyes open and  your head up," students who want to rebel will rebel. Period. 

And as I moved on in my career, I noticed that the quietest, most controlled classrooms belonged to teachers who told students "No" and stuck to a consequence when a rule was broken. 

Well, ever since Gordon Lee really started getting around and getting into things, I had to find a way to handle his behavior. Well, I could let him ransack my house and possibly seriously hurt himself, but I wasn't too keen on that. Not surprisingly, the same methodology that circulated in the teaching realm, is abuzz in parenting advice.  Should I avoid telling Gordon Lee "No"? Should I just redirect him? I will admit that I have never questioned myself so much on one thing. Ultimately, I found (just as with the students) that Gordon Lee had the exact SAME reaction to being told "No" as he did to being redirected.  If he wanted to do something, he didn't care if I simply told him he couldn't do it or if I just tried to bring his attention to something else. Plus, sometimes, he would get close to danger so quickly, that I wanted him to learn and understand "No" or "Stop" in case I couldn't get to him fast enough. 

But I will say that I felt so much like a broken record for so long that I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure what the appropriate way to address his behavior was. Still, though, I'd had some experiences that left me feeling like I want my child to understand and respect boundaries and leave it at that. So, I kept saying "No" even if it was for the 100th time. And I kept following through with a consequence. And I also constantly praised him when he did not touch an off-limits object or when he obeyed my instructions.

And after feeling like maybe this wasn't going anywhere, I noticed one day last week that I had only said "No" about a handful of times! My child was beginning to listen and respect boundaries (Yes, I know the terrible twos are still yet to come). And it has really been that way so far since (he does start getting more disobedient when he is getting tired, but that's it). 

And then, as I was lying down to sleep last night, it occurred to me that even God says "Thou shalt not" and "No" without giving us a distraction. And I have settled on the fact that this word is not a bad word. It doesn't need to be avoided. We just need to learn to accept it even when we don't want to.