The Kid Whisperer: How to use an effective alternative to immediate consequences

Scott Ervin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I know I need to have immediate consequences for negative behaviors in my third-grade classroom, but no matter how immediate those consequences are or how big they are, they seem to make things worse. Kids talk while they are supposed to be taking a test, for example. It started with one student; now it’s 15. I tried a point system and a card system for taking recess and calling home. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Everything you have learned about kids needing immediate consequences is wrong. In fact, it is profoundly wrong, and it is perhaps the most false and stress-inducing belief a teacher can have. This false belief, that consequences must immediately follow a negative behavior, comes, as far as I can tell, mostly from research done on birds.

Since kids are not birds, this work has led us down the wrong path.

For people like me and you who work with human students, there is a better way.

One of the many, many problems with immediate consequences is that they systematically give attention to kids who may not care what kind of attention, positive or negative, they get. This reinforces the negative behavior you are trying to get rid of. If we show frustration, we also give control to students, further reinforcing the behavior. If we send kids to the principal, we give them avoidance.


When you do this, you give the kids using the most negative behaviors the Behavior Hat Trick.


Here’s what I do instead. I give kids using negative behaviors the least attention and control and no avoidance, while I give kids using the most positive behaviors the most attention and control.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #6 is silent. I noticed Kid #13 is working hard.


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