Nice Ways to Gain Compliance
Help Kids Develop Self Management of Their Behavior

Ways to lure students into showing appropriate behavior, that also promote self control of one's behavior.

    Looking to gain compliance in ways that don't make you ashamed to tell others about it?  Looking for positive and respectful ways to lead your students into displaying appropriate behaviors?  Do you want to improve your relationships with your students?  Are you hoping to teach your kids to make good behavior choices, even when you're not around?  Those ideas are found on this page (and many other pages on this site).  These simple techniques (so simple that a lot of teachers don't believe that they'll work until they give them a try) are nice things to try before going to your penalties for non-compliance and misbehavior.  While these strategies may be initially ineffective with some of your "tough" kids, they gain effectiveness quickly.  If you still find yourself having to go to your penalties, the youngsters come to understand that the nice interventions are their "warnings".  They begin to respond to these strategies in order to avoid the penalties.  And now, because you are treating them respectfully, they come to like you better and return the respectful treatment. (This outcome is even true with students labeled "behavior disordered", as I found in a study I conducted with 308 acting-out students in self-contained classes in a large urban area.  On a survey, they reported that they behave better and work harder for teachers who teach them well and show them respect.)

    Another nice thing about these strategies is that they build inner control over behavior.  Kids have to take the limited amount of information that you provide to them and figure out why you said it to them.  They try to discern what the problem must be and what they should do about it.  They become self disciplined "thinkers" instead of "stinkers".

    You'll find that these interventions are easily implemented and highly effective, creating and maintaining positive relationships with our kids.  They provide you with ways to gain power and influence...all without having to resort to coercion.  They allow you to be a teacher who is both effective and nice.  You'll accomplish more than could ever be done with mean-spirited strategies.

  More benefits: These interventions work with kids of all ages...3 to 83.  If you find yourself getting in battles with your kids, parents, siblings, spouse (or spouse substitute), colleagues, bosses,  or others in your life...these strategies can help to develop closer bonds of attachment and respectful treatment toward each other.  Make a point of trying these ideas in your home right now, or your class tomorrow.

P.S. These strategies are "Psychoeducational" in that they:
-Promote the development of positive personal relationships
-Help the youngster to change his/her thought patterns and perceptions, &
-Involve the student in his/her own behavior change

You can find more of these type of interventions under the section on our web site titled "How to use psychoeducational interventions"

OK...Here we go...

Rephrasing Our Comments
How we word and deliver our comments to others determines the outcome.  Our delivery of the message will have an enormous impact on our effectiveness, our relationships with our students, the self image of the other, and happiness with ourselves as teacher/parent.  The "4 No No's" (see below) hurt others, blame, accuse, and create hard feelings...even if you get compliance.  They are used by teachers functioning inadequately in the area of behavior management, and the many teachers who are disfunctioning in their bullying, coercive, emotionally toxic manner.  The latter group may gain compliance from most kids, but defiant and "difficult" kids are likely to strike back.  They may then be seen as heroes/heroines by your other students who resent being treated poorly.  Oppressed peoples eventually rise up against their tyrants.  Avoid sowing the seeds of discontent.  Make your classroom the kind of place you envisioned when you were training to be a teacher.  Mean teachers may brag about their caustic methods, and defend them as "the only thing they understand", deep inside they realize that they have lost the dream.  They have become the teachers they hated when they were kids.

When we address misbehavior, it's important to delete four things from our commentary.
1. "Why Questions"
2. The word "YOU"
3. The words "NO" and "DON'T"
4. Lecturing/Nagging/Berating

Why?(that "Why Question" is really is seeking information and was said respectfully). All place blame rather than seek solutions.  They make matters worse rather than better.

Let's look at each of the types of phrasing that we want to avoid:

"Why Questions"
       "Why are your socks on the floor?"  "Why is the toilet seat up?" (Gee. Perhaps I'm revealing too much about my home life here...Just kidding.  We avoid these types of questions at the McIntyre homestead).

Do you ever find yourself asking kids "Why did you...?"  Were you really looking for the reason behind the behavior, or were you starting your series of lectures, reminders, and put-downs?  Think about those accusatory "why" questions.  They are "wolves in sheep's' clothing".  They appear to be seeking information (" I just asked him why!  I don't know why he got so upset.").   The real message is clear however.  Asking "Why are you doing that?" really means "GOTCHA!!".  Kids know "Why?" means "I've caught you being bad, and I'm going to let you dig a bigger hole for yourself before I really come down on you hard."  Kids, realizing they are facing impending penalties, then lie, deceive, make excuses, or otherwise try to escape the inevitable punishment/criticism/chastisement.  Our approach forces them into more undesireable behavior.  Then we lose the focus, having to deal with the new excuses/misbehaviors that emerge instead of the original one.

The inquisitor is saying "I'm going to give you the opportunity to come up with some inadequate excuse and expose yourself more to my impending verbal pummeling."  The word "Why" should only be used when a nice, concerned tone of voice is attached by someone who has true concern about the student's behavior.

    Delete this word from your vocabulary when dealing with misbehavior.  It attacks and hurts.  It is condescending and controlling.  It fails to solve the problem.   So what should we use in it's stead??

    What can you say in place of "YOU" when talking with kids (or a loved one with whom you're having an argument or to whom you will need to give a direction)? A particularly good way to prevent escalation of arguments and avoid putting others on the defensive is to state feelings or directions in the form of an "I (not) message".  An "I message" involves stating what you would like to see done, how you feel, or what you need.  Examples include "I need quiet in this room right now." (As opposed to "Why are you talking?"), "I'm disappointed in what I saw out on the yard.  I don't expect to see that sort of thing now that we're in 3rd (6th, 9th) grade.  I expect to see better in the future." (Instead of "You all acted like idiots out there.")   We can also bond and connect with our pupils by using the plural form... the "We message"  combined with 3rd person references ("all of us", "my students") in place of  "YOU".  So, instead of saying "You're being too noisy.", try "We all need to be quiet so that we can hear our classmate's report."

Notice how the word "YOU" was eliminated from the statements found below, replacing that word with
"I", "us", "we", and "our".

"You weren't listening.  You're gonna end up on welfare."
becomes "I want my students to listen closely so that they can learn important things that will help them succeed in life."

"If you use your garbage mouth one more time, you're losing recess." becomes"I need to hear only appropriate words for the rest of the period.  That way recess will still be on the schedule."

"You're a rude little bugger." becomes "I feel bad when my students speak in a mean way.  Please tell me what you want in a polite way...that's the only way you'll ever get it. (knowing smile here)"

Notice how the utterances become less confrontational and condescending.  Chances of getting compliance and cooperation increase.  The wording can initially be a bit cumbersome, but becomes easier with practice.  Let's all give a conscious effort toward improving our verbal directions to kids. (Did you notice how I avoided saying that "You need to improve your verbal commands."?)

Review on I and We Messages:
 -Use a respectful, positive, and considerate tone of voice (and body language)
-a 3rd person references to replace "you" (e.g., "my students", "everybody")
 -"I", "me", or "my" when expressing your feelings or concerns
 -"we", "us", or "our" to promote esprit de corp (& positive peer pressure)
     ("T.J., if we're going to be ready for Monday's show, I need everyone quiet and on their marks now.")

If you need to be more directive in a situation:
-The student's name (we all like to hear our names)
 -a request or direction to engage in an action (preceded by "Please")
 -encouragement (to motivate youngsters to comply with directions)
 ("Elsie, let's keep working on our map game.  You know, it's really starting to take shape.  We're going to have a great game board for our geography  group.")


More on "I messages and Expressing Ourselves
Most of us have been indoctrinated to believe that we have to suppress our emotions, and we feel guilty when they have erupted.  Describing how you feel using "I messages" helps us to:
     -display emotions appropriately in a moderated manner
     -deal with pressure
     -release pent up energy
     -model appropriate behavior for kids


"Standing bear, please steer clear of me right now.  After our little episode, I need a break."

"Sal, this isn't a good time to review your test.  I'm a little tense & distracted right
now.  How about if we look at it after lunch?"

"What is wrong with this class?  Why does it take you forever to open your notebooks?  How do you expect to learn anything if you take up half the morning fooling around?"
 "I get impatient when we don't get to work promptly.  I'm so excited about teaching you things that will help you succeed in life.  I like to see all notebooks opened and everyone ready to begin when the bell rings."

"How can you all be so mean?  That is a cruel thing to do, making fun of someone who stutters!"
"It upsets me to see anyone in our group being made the brunt of hurtful jokes.  I expect our class to treat all of its members with respect.  We are a team."

What do you do if you say "I feel...", and a youngsters says "Who cares how you feel?"
  (Use another "I message")
Click here for more information on "I messages" and activities to practice them


Your Turn Yet Again!
  Rephrase these "Negative YOU messages" using various points mentioned above:
"How can you be so mean?  You're very cruel to make fun of someone who makes a mistake."

"What's wrong with all of you?  Why does it take you forever to get ready?  How  do you expect to learn anything if you take up half the morning goofing around?"

"The milk spilled on the table.  What  should we do about it?" (Well, first of all, don't cry over spilt milk)

 -Takes away
      -accusations & finger pointing (by teacher & students)
      -student defensiveness and excuses
      -the need to apologize later

 -Helps everyone focus on what needs to be done

 -Builds inner control over behavior

Your Turn Again, and Again, and Again!!!
 Imagine the situation in which these comments are said
and provide a more professional replacement.

"You're outta your chair again."

"What's wrong with you?"

"Oh no...What did you do that for?"

"Whoa!  You're doing it all wrong."

"You little brat."

"You better start paying attention."

"You're living down to your reputation."

"Why do you always do this to yourself?"

"You ain't never gonna be no honors student no how."

"You're doing it all wrong."

"You're so clumsy (noisy, rude, nosy, etc.)"

"Bozo!  Quit acting like a clown."

"Bonzo and Cheetah.  Stop acting like apes."

"Godzilla and King Kong, why are you always breaking things?"

"Don't deny it.  You're the only one who opens those boxes Pandora."

Practice Makes Perfect

Write down "You" statements heard being used by yourself or others.  Rephrase them into "I" or "We" messages.

Avoiding Saying "NO" and "Don't"
When you tell a kid what s/he shouldn't be doing ("No yelling.", "Don't run."), you fail to give the student direction in what s/he OUGHT to be doing.  There are a number of drawbacks to using these negatives:
1. It doesn't tell kids what behavior you want to see.  Therefore, it won't happen.
2. Even if the youngster can tell you what s/he should be doing, has s/he displayed the behavior on a regular basis?  Being able to describe the behavior verbally is much different from possessing the behavior in one's repertoire and being able to use it at the correct moment.
3. Kids hear the action word in your statement.  Telling a kid "Don't run." will guarantee that s/he and all other kids with him/her will immediate break into a run.
4. Parents and teachers often use the behavior they tell a kid to stop: "STOP YELLING!!", "No hitting!" (as the adult hits the child).  Expect the wrong message to be heard by the youngster.  Yelling at kids CREATES yellers.  Hitting kids teaches them to hit weaker others.


Lecturing About Behavior

  Nowadays, as adults, we don't like it when someone is lecturing or nagging us.  We didn't like it when we were students either.  We felt as if the speakers were condescending toward us, and often ignored those people or rebelled against them. Other times, we felt small and felt bad about ourselves (instead of our actions).   Lectures are either ineffective, incendiary, or hurtful.  Keep corrective messages short and simple.

For example, instead of: "Fran, you've walked out of the door again without your backpack.  Where's your head at.  You're so busy gossiping with all your friends you're not even thinking about what you're supposed to do.  Sometimes I think you'd lose your head if it weren't tied to your neck.  C'mon.  Get with it girl."
(Here's what Fran actually heard: "Fran, you've blah, blah, blah, yakety yak, blah, blah, blah...")

Try: "Betsy. Your schoolbag."

This technique avoids:

Short statements motivate youngsters to:
     -think about the limited information
     -identify the problem
     -devise a solution
     -exercise their own initiative & resolve the problem

  Read this long-winded commentary spouted from the mean-spirited mouth of a mean, bullying teacher.  Then create a shorter, respectful direction.

"Hey Cosmo.  COSMO!!  Do I have to put up a neon sign to get your attention?  What are you doing?  (Cosmo looks blankly at the teacher.)  Why isn't the notebook on your desk?  Let's get on the ball here.  (Student gives a look of recognition, meekly smiles, and pulls his backpack around to his desk.)  Hey!  Get to it.  Let's go.  (Cosmo shuffles through the materials in his backpack)  You always take too much time to do things.  It's this way every day.  Get out your notebook now, not next week.  (The embarrassed student nervously hurries to locate the correct notebook.)  Put your hands on it boy.  Geesh, I've seen faster moves from a 3-legged turtle with a hernia.  Time to get a move on."
Click here to read about a teacher's experiment in using "short statements" with students with autism

Click here to read about the use of short statements with a 7 year old with ADHD.


In "giving information", we utter golden nuggets of knowledge, but don't tell the student what to do about it.  The youngster has to figure out why the teacher said that utterance to him/her and devise a positive plan of action.  Make the statements short and non-judgmental.  Use them as nice "reminders" before you use more directive measures.

"Kelvin, records (CDs) warp if they're near heat."

"Lucinda, if you hit others, they won't want to be your friend."
"If you touch your tongue to metal on a cold day, it might freeze there."
"David, paste dries up unless the cover is put back on the jar.

"Cindy, alcohol dries up unless the cover is put back on the bottle."
   (I have to tell this to my friends almost every Friday night.)

"Protractors are for measuring angles, not frisbee catch."

"Geometric compasses are for drawing circles, not javelin practice."

READ the two variations of teacher statements below, noting how the second utterance is a much nicer way to gain compliance.  Which one would you like to hear if you were a student?

1a. "No, you can't paint without an apron."
1b. "I know you feel uncomfortable in an apron, but it keeps paint
            from ruining your nice clothes."

2a. "Don't touch that!"
2b. "I'm glad you noticed my new plant.  Plants are for looking at.  Touching the leaves can hurt them."

YOUR TURN  (Devise an informational statement):

"Don't throw sand!"

What might we say if a pupil jokingly hits another with a ruler?

How might we respond if we spot a youngster bending back the covers of a book?
Click here to see possible answers to the three statements (above)


Avoid giving information that is already very obvious to an adolescent.  It may appear condescending & sarcastic, resulting in rebellion or a snide remark.  Use one word statements (see that section below) or say the statement as a quick reminder as you are walking away from the youngster.  Don't hover over him/her.


    Mention the problem that needs to be addressed without assigning blame or mentioning the student's role in the situation.  We all make mistakes.  Describing the problem is more advanced than the "Giving information" strategy.  The child has no provided knowledge to use.  It requires a higher level of thought from the youngster.  S/he has to figure out how to resolve the identified problem.  Give your kids a chance to learn from experiences.  Non-emotionally and non-judgmentally lead kids to proper actions by pointing out the problem that has developed.  Give hints and cues if necessary to help him/her through the thought process (even when you want to SCREAM!). (Gee, I'm lecturing now...Maybe I should have used a short statement here.)


"Yuen Shing, the paint spilled. What  needs to be done now?" (If he fails to react, you might give cues like  "We have paper towels over the sink."  Notice that you didn't tell him what to do with the towels.  You merely hinted that they were somehow involved in the solution of the problem.)

"Ralph, the hamster is sucking at an  empty bottle."

It's near dismissal and the books  aren't in their place."

"Folks, lots of papers and items are strewn around the room.  We need order, and I'd appreciate your help."

"The room is messy.  I expect it to be different in 30 seconds."

"I hear answers, but I don't see hands."

"Keisha, the plant soil spilled onto the window sill."



    Notes are a great way to prevent misbehavior, nip it in the bud, or address issues.  The permanent and novel (at least between teachers and kids) form of communication often makes a more dramatic impact upon the behavior and emotional state of our students.  Below, you'll find examples of different types of notes.  Just remember though: watch the wording (remember that this note might be shown to others) and be aware that it is more difficult to convey emotion in writing...add a smiley face to the note (or to your face as you deliver the document).

Pre-emptive/Preventive Notes (Present these to the student(s) before the activity/event)
"Svetlana, remember to raise you hand to offer an answer or comment."
"Group 2: Bring your discussion to a close soon.  Have your projects put away by 2:10pm."

After-The-Fact (Present these to address a behavior/event after it has occurred)
"Chandra, please see me at your convenience, but before the bell rings."
"I was saddened to hear of your family's loss.  If you want to talk, I'm available."
"T.J.: Insightful answers in class today.  Thanks for contributing."
"Shoshana, thanks for helping me yesterday.  It's greatly appreciated.
"Calvin, I let your rude remarks pass today.  Just don't let it happen again tomorrow."

Humorous Reminders (To address issues that need resolution now...or in a couple of minutes)
Dear Willie:  Please stop using invisible ink.
  Your ledger.
Dear Josie:  I get lonely without words.
  Your notebook.
Dear Ali:  I can't think straight.  I need my mind organized.
  Your locker.

"Offers Of Assistance" (for kids who are oppositional/defiant, unmotivated, or concerned with peer disapproval)
Here's a typical scenario:  The teacher says "Hector, open your book to page 14 and answer the questions please."  Hector says "I ain't opening no stupid book.  This is baby crap."  Hector is sending a false message to his peers...He's too bright for this material and rejects you for asking him to do the assignment.  The true message is that the material is much to difficult for him.  He has a choice.  He can appear "Bad" or "Dumb".  Which one would you choose??   Here's how to use notes to gain cooperation...

If you detect that the youngster needs assistance:
    -Continue to teach the lesson while moving slowly toward the student.
    -As you teach, write on a "post it" (sticky back) "Do you want help?"
          (Be sure to use the word "want"...he can't admit that he "needs" help)
    -Keep walking, but look back to the youngster in a couple of seconds
    -Wait for a cue from him/her as to "Yes" or "No"
    -If "Yes", write another note: "From me or another student?"
    -Watch for a non-verbal reply (e.g., nod of head, pointing to someone)

Offers of assistance don't force kids to reveal that they need help and give "personal space" to oppositional kids while being supportive.



If we overpower students, what have we taught them?  Essentially, they'll learn:
    -"Don't think, just obey." (if you can't avoid or trick them)
    -"I've got to get some power so that I'm the one who gives orders
        and bosses people around."

Do we really want our kids to follow the directions of others (e.g., child molesters, gang leaders, drug dealers) without thinking about it?

When possible, we should seek cooperation in our classroom, especially because:
    -we don't have much left nowadays that can coerce kids
    -it creates a positive classroom climate
    -it teaches kids how to behave appropriately
    -it brings joy to our teaching and their learning

Always emphasize and express:
     -mutual respect
     -recognition of the inherent dignity of others
     -maintenance of the honor of others
     -belief in the student's ability to improve

You get what you give, so give good things.

Remember the ABC's of behavior management: Always Build Character.

Click here to read an example of how a mother used these ideas to avoid struggles with her 12 year old daughter

Click here to read examples of these ideas put to use in an elementary school classroom

Resources for Building Self Control in Youngsters

Martin Henley (    ). Teaching self-control: A curriculum for responsible behavior.  National Educational Service.

Tom McIntyre (2004). The behavior survival guide for kids: How to make good choices and stay out of trouble.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Press. (the only book written for kids who exhibit behavior problems)

Charles Wolfgang, Betty Bennett, and Judith Irvin (1999).  Strategies for teaching self-discipline in the middle grades. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


I would really appreciate it if someone would fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page
"Fetching the home page will help teachers learn more about behavior management." (Information)
"Fetch please." (Short statement)
"If the home page isn't fetched, we won't be able to look at anything else." (Describing the problem)
"I'm disappointed when the home page isn't fetched promptly." (Describing how I feel)

This is an "eye message".(But what does it mean?)

Updated 2/10/05 with new link. background, and font