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How to Keep Discipline Without Yelling or Screaming

No Yelling in the Classroom:

Yelling is okay under the following conditions: a) You are under age 8, outside, and do not live in an apartment complex; b) You are being attacked by a bear; c) You have been stuck in freeway traffic for 5 hours and need to use the restroom. Yelling in the classroom is okay when: a) a bulldozer has knocked out one of your walls, b) the visiting school board member has passed out on the first row of children, or c) little Mikey in the second row is teaching Hari-Kari to little Charlie in the third row.

The author is sorry to say that she once witnessed a principal (who felt the world would end if there was not absolute silence) using a bullhorn in a lunch room to yell at, threaten, and intimidate little children for 15 minutes while they were trying to eat their lunches. It didn't work (duh). First, absolute silence is not a realistic or fair expectation for kids, (only for teachers who have just been told they are getting a reduction in pay) and second, the kids simply rebelled, knowing that the principal didn't have eyes in the back of her head and couldn't see 360 degrees, unlike them. Needless to say, their appetites were spoiled and they learned very little that afternoon, and probably forgot what they learned the day before. The author was very disappointed to see someone who was being paid upwards of $70,000 a year out of taxpayer money but who thought school was for testing Nazi theory.

Yelling doesn't work. Studies show that a child's brain actually stops functioning when they are being yelled at, and it cannot accept new information (meaning, it becomes like many adult brains). Learning stops. The definition of insanity is: doing the same thing repeatedly even after repeated failure (okay, so this describes every legislature in the country). Yelling is the closest thing there is to repeated failure. Why do we yell when it just makes everyone feel bad? Because it makes us feel good? Because someone yelled at us? Our volume control is stuck on loud? Bad reasons. A child will try every crayon in the box when coloring (unfortunately, sometimes on the walls). We, as adults, can learn from these little children. If something doesn't work, keep trying until you find something that does work! Use every crayon in the box! Use every trick in the hat until you find one that works, then keep that one handy.

Be realistic about what to expect from kids. Be tolerant. Growing up takes time (90 years for some people). A certain level of busy noise caused by contented kids completing an assignment is normal and healthy. Total silence in a class can be a warning sign for child advocates and child behavior specialists, who can tell the difference between a 'happy quiet' and a 'tense quiet' environment by the children's body language. It isn't healthy unless the kids are totally engrossed in reading or watching a sad movie. However, you do need them to be quiet when you are giving them instructions, but this can be done without noticeable hysteria or vocal abuse.

How to quiet a noisy class or group without yelling:

A rainstick: This can be purchased for around $10 at many educational and children's supply stores. It makes a loud but gentle sound than can be heard above the babble of the class and is an immediate, positive attention-getter.

During discussions say, "Quiet kids get to be first in line to go to recess," and point to those are being quietest.

Arm motions: Teach kids that when you raise one arm in the air with two or three fingers extended it means you need silence (be careful which finger). As they begin to pay attention tell them, "I need you to listen." Be truthful. Many adults simply order "Quiet!" or "Silence!" or "You need to be quiet," but kids don't need quiet! Grownups are the ones who need quiet. If you state your needs without yelling they're usually happy to comply.

A whistle: Especially good for large groups. Kids would rather hear this than yelling from a red-faced adult.

Ask the group to rise. Use arm motions (raise hands upward in the air). Physical movement usually brings curiosity about what is coming next, and so they listen. If there is still too much noise ask the kids to turn around in a circle. Next ask them to put their hands on their head. Keep giving instructions until they are quietly waiting for new instructions.

Try humor. A teacher I know puts large earplugs in his ears when the class is getting noisy. They laugh, but they get the message and appreciate not being yelled at.

Always thank them when the group has settled down. One teacher always says to a just-quieted group, "Thanks! I needed that."

Inform them, "Your silence now is worth 5 minutes of free time after you complete the assignment."

Count to five loudly. At the count of five if order has not been obtained then assign a consequence (have them write 'I will not break the sound barrier in class' 15 times, and raise the number for the second infraction). They will learn to be quiet before you even reach the count of 3.

If the group is very unruly and these things aren't working then it's time to have kids put their heads down on their tables and turn out the lights for 2-5 minutes (but only after everything else has failed, and never with grades K through 3). If an assembly is refusing to behave after repeated attempts to bring order then it may be necessary to dismiss the children to their classrooms and postpone the assembly, but only in extreme circumstances. This is still better than yelling, because yelling doesn't work (unless you are a baboon, a gorilla, or an NFL coach). For more ideas see the book "Discipline: One Hundred One Alternatives to Nagging, Yelling, and Spanking" by Dr. Alvin Price and Jay A. Parry

No Yelling at Home (You decide what works for you)

Yelling in the home is okay if, a) a train has crashed into your living room, b) your children have turned into werewolves, or c) scary aliens have landed on your roof.

Let's face it. There is never going to be absolute quiet for long periods of time in a home with happy children (although some children are more calm and quiet than others). If you are one of those people who requires absolute quiet and you have children, then it's time to have earplugs surgically implanted in your ears. A certain amount of tolerance is necessary, and a certain amount of facing reality, but when you get to the point that you are becoming irritable don't yell, try one of the following:

One Mom who needed peace and quiet taped a sign on a tank vacuum cleaner that said, "Noise Eating Machine." She turned it on and tapped each kid gently on the head, pretending she was vacuuming up the noise." After they were quiet they all got a cookie. Soon the kids were also playing the game.

Make a rule about "indoor voices" and "outdoor voices." Indoor voices are normal sound levels. Outdoor voices can include shouting if it is for playing, not fighting.

When using the phone and you can't hear, raise your hand high and then point to the phone, or with a portable phone wave bye-bye, point to the phone, and walk out of the room. Use exaggerated facial expressions of mock dismay, or pretend crying.

If kids are in the habit of shouting to get your attention tell them, "I can't answer until you use a normal voice."

If they shout from upstairs while you are downstairs tell them, "I'm down here and I can't hear you." They'll come down and say, "then how did you know I was talking?" You say, "I didn't, I thought it was a lion roaring."

Tell them, "As soon as it's quiet I can tell you what we're going to do."

When serving food or treats say, "The quietest kids get theirs first."

Take the kids to the park, or send them outside to play (in rural suburbs first check for snakes, scorpions, or other danger).

Copyright Adrienne Potter. Reprinted with permission.

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