Spending the past 15 years working with students who have special needs has opened up a vast opportunity for me to gain an abundance of information while also enabling me to help others learn as well. Many of the classroom challenges that we face involve asking students to do various tasks, jobs or “simply” transitioning to the next activity. When students choose not to comply, it can be frustrating for staff which then can lead to anxious situations for all involved. “Forcing” compliance is never win/win and can often lead to very stressful or even potentially dangerous situations. Gaining peaceful compliance is win/win. This article focuses on five strategies to gain compliance with tasks while also helping a child increase their self-esteem.
One of the key mistakes people make when trying to get someone to respond positively to a request is phrasing a question poorly. Make sure to phrase your request properly to avoid accidental non-compliance.
Don’t ask, “John, will you take the trash out?” Too often, I have seen new employees ask similar questions to which the student replies, “no.” I tell the staff member, “You asked. That’s his answer. Respect his ‘no.’ Done deal.”
Instead phrase the request, “John, please take out the trash.” It may not work immediately, but one should start off phrasing properly. You might even immediately get what you are requesting.
If your original request is not responded to positively, try using the power of options. Consider the request you are making and think of a less favorable option as an additional alternative. For example:
You have requested that the trash be taken out. Hold fast to that request, but say, “Okay, here are your choices. Take the trash out or clean the bathroom. You choose.” The options of choice will depend on the individual. It is possible that they will take the second choice, but often this strategy works. This not only increases the chance of you getting a positive response for your request, it can improve the individual’s confidence and self-esteem simply by giving them options.
Everyone prefers choices over demands.
Although we (as educators and parents) need to pick our battles, we also have to stick to our proverbial guns. I often say, “He who blinks first loses.” We need to be patient enough to wait for a desired response. Don’t pick a battle while rushing out the door to work or school. You will automatically set yourself up for failure or an unnecessary battle. Giving options and waiting things out requires longer time periods – especially when you initially begin using these strategies where the child is testing boundaries and “rules” of negotiation. You might also consider pairing your patience with a simple timer as a visual cue.
An alternative to offering options is giving a preferred choice once the request is addressed. An amazingly easy tool is the “First/Then” strategy. It’s pretty basic.
You can request it verbally “First, take out the trash. Then, you can play video games.” You can use written, picture “first/then” cards, or even a first/then app if the child responds better to visuals. Simply mark “FIRST” on the left and “THEN” on the right. Using words, simple pictures or visual supports, write your request on the left and the reward on the right.
Pick Your Battles
Every decision and every request does not have to lead to compliance. Kids test boundaries while learning independence and practicing negotiation skills. We need to, at times, honor and respect their growth by being flexible with requests and expectations of compliance. Also, try not to get emotionally connected with the battle. The more patient, consistent and calm you can be during these interactions, the more successful you will be.