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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Neutralizing Arguments

I enjoy learning about my profession. I've learned to put a name to a technique that's pretty handy to use with kids who have learned to get their way through manipulation, pleading, and arguing. According to Bob Sornson, it's called neutralizing arguments and the basic premise is to respond to the student's arguing with an empathetic phrase and then repeat the direction, request, rule each time the student continues to whine/complain/waste valuable oxygen. Here's a sample discussion I had the pleasure of having today. It takes place after the student came to me late AGAIN with yet another excuse why, complaining that her stomach ached, had nothing with her in terms of books/papers/work, said it was in three different places, took her sweeet time to go to each to get her stuff, then returned to me continuing to whine that her stomach hurts, that she's thirsty:

TeacherLady: Okay, you've got that math homework to do, get started on that please.
The Mouth: My stomach hurts. I already did this! No I didn't. I hate that man. Can I go get a drink of water?
TeacherLady: No, I'm sorry, but you've got to get that math work done.
The Mouth: My mouth is so dry. I can't work with my mouth dry like this. The more I talk the drier it gets... Can I go drink some water, pleeeeease?
TeacherLady: No, I'm sorry you're thirsty, but you've got to get that math work done.
The Mouth: So dry. I just want some water. Then I'll get my math done.

(I've noticed an alarming pattern of kids and teens trying to bargain this way. They always want to get the reward first, then do the work for it... Maybe... Is it the generation of credit?)

TeacherLady: No, I'm sorry you're feeling that way, but you've got to get that math work done.
The Mouth: When did you get that picture?
The Mouth: Who made that?
The Mouth: This is SO BORING. My mouth is so dry...

I sat in silence, marvelling at the sheer will of young people and at her vocal abilities until she finally stopped talking. And worked. It was beautiful. Until...

The Mouth: Can I go drink some water?

The problem is that I've seen her interact with her family, and her mother makes the easy mistake of getting sucked into the argument instead of simply drawing a line and ending the conversation. If any adult in her life falls into that trap, it reinforces that kind of behavior in her. It fuels her. I watched her light up when her mother made the mistake of trying to reason with her. It gave her fodder to pick at, question, examine for holes... It made her mother angry, which in turn upset the girl, despite her excitement at being able to stir things up.

Which brings me to the following video which my colleague shared with me today. There are times when matters are open for discussion, and there are times when the kid is just trying to be a smart ass... This is one of the latter:


kinzi said...

My kid's school adopted a philosophy like this called "Love and Logic". I've used it at home, too.

Bravo 3alayki for setting boundaries for them!

ito said...

The presence of the camera does give the boys a bigger audience and they know it. It also seems to me that the same camera makes the principal a little more self conscious and wary of coming out as the tough and unreasonable disciplinarian.

Interesting post.