6 Class Management (Discipline) Tips With Young Ones

At my studio, regular year classes have been in session for a month now, and so naturally some of my young students’ “first days of school” attention to extra-good behavior is wearing off as they get more comfortable in their surroundings. Time for–6 Class Management (Discipline) Tips with Young Ones…in this case, meaning about ages 3.5 to 7.

Tips #1-3 ~ My Goals For Managing a Class of Youngin’s

  • More attention on positive behavior than negative behavior.

Tip #1 – When you notice off behavior (wandering child, playing in line), praise the good behavior you see happening somewhere else in class. Example: Rather than, “Sara, come back to the line. Judy, stop talking!” Say instead, “Good job Danielle standing right on the line. I see Leena facing forward with her hands at her sides.” This “redirection” method not only makes the teacher’s words heard aloud in class much more positive, but it also gives the student whose behavior is off a road map for how to get back on track and get the same kind of praise.

  • Let children choose to self-correct their own behavior.

Tip #2 – Once you’ve given a correction, divert attention away from a child so that they can choose to do the right thing without the pressure of being in the class spotlight. For instance: If I say, “Sally, we don’t sit on the floor in class”…I could pause the class and watch Sally until she stands up, or I could immediately jump back into, “Ok shuffle step, here we go!” And keep a subtle eye on Sally while the main focus is back on the dancing. Often the child will see it’s more fun to join the action…and if they don’t, maybe something else is wrong and I need to revisit with a new tactic. If Sally does change her behavior, she has the pride of choosing the right thing–a choice that she can repeat in the future without my help.

  • Help children learn why a behavior doesn’t work in class.

Tip #3 – Pose a question to the class, or to the misbehaving child, that will lead everyone to know the reason for a rule–possibly eliminating the need for you to tell the child no! Example: If a child is tapping their tap shoes in our opening circle while I’m taking roll, I might say…”Does that make it harder or easier for everyone to hear their name?” (They always get the right answer unless they are being silly.) Often that is enough. Sometimes I add a gesture with my hand that says “stop” or “settle down” or “shhhh”….maybe only mouthing the accompanying words. Only if the preceding doesn’t work do I then look directly at the toe tapping child and say firmly, simply, kindly–“Stop.”

Tips #4-6 ~ Ways to Get There

  • Focus – The class will either pay attention to what you are paying attention to, or to the most interesting thing that’s happening.

Tip #4 – Be prepared to be the most interesting thing that’s happening!

Tip #1 mentioned how to put focus on the good things that are happening in class. If that fails, it’s time to be a bigger, more magnetic attraction than any child’s misbehavior. Children are naturally dramatic, but we dance instructors are trained performers. We know how to fill a whole theater with our energy (and our voice if we are also actors), and we can certainly upstage a 5-year old if we believe that we can and we must. We can also fake it until we make it. So if a child starts to lose it or throw a fit, they are seeking (consciously or unconsciously) to take over the stage. Be the bigger person. The rest of the class will be more at ease if you, the teacher, are bigger than the problem. Have a solution, a consequence, a joke. A child acting out is often begging for a boundary. Be the boundary. Fake it until you make it.

  • Follow-Through – Doing what you say. Not saying anything you won’t do.

Tip #5 – It is far worse to threaten a consequence you don’t/won’t carry out than to not mention what the consequence will be for not self-correcting a behavior. I believe you do not have to say what the consequence for not following directions will be ahead of time! Once you say a punishment, the children (naughty or nice) all focus on the punishment, wondering if and when and to whom it will happen. Now you’ve lost 1/2 the class’ attention to a punishment that hasn’t even been doled out, but probably will have to be now. Here is how my line of reproachment might sound in a pre-ballet/ballet 1 class if a dancer is hanging on the barre: “Thank you for showing us what not to do. Please fix it.” (Friendly joke strategy.) “What’s the 1strule of barre?” (No hanging.) (Leading question strategy.) Then I turn attention quickly back to what is going right and give the misbehaving student a few moments…without attention on them…to choose to join us. And finally…“Sara, you are showing me that you are not ready to be at the barre. Please sit out against the mirror for this exercise.”

Here is how this might look if we are dancing with a prop. Examples: If I ask a child to stop throwing a bean bag and it appears they are choosing to ignore my request for them to stop, I will position myself to get the bean bag before they do and just pick it up. No discussion. Smile on my face soon after. If a child is holding the object (such as a scarf that they are flicking in another child’s face), I might go to them quietly and hold out my hand saying “you are done with the scarf for now.” If they don’t give up the scarf, all scarves are put away and the activity is changed maybe after 1 phrase that classes who can’t all use scarves nicely don’t get to use scarves. We will try again another day. Students know why it happened. By late-pre-school/kindergarten they usually don’t need an explanation, and I’d rather save us all a lecture and get back to what is going well ASAP.

  • Fun – !

Tip #6 – Tip #6 is where I always try to start – Fun! Kids for the most part want to behave well, but they get distracted. Here are a few “games” to get their attention back to what you’re doing.

      • Accents! – Try changing the speed (s-l-o-w or yaddayaddayaddafast), volume (loud burst or super soft so they have to listen), pitch (cartoon high or manly low, etc) or accent of my voice to catch their attention and reign in distracting side behavior. Once I have attention or once giggling ensues, return to your normal voice.
      • Almost Simon Says“If you can hear me touch your head. Touch your knee. Stand like a mummy, (continue getting weird/interesting if you don’t have everyone), and popsicle stick (feet together, hands at sides).” Always praise dancers who did well!
      • Peek-A-Boo Self-CorrectionCovering your eyes (ok I cheat)– “Let’s see if you can fix these lines in 5-4-3-2-1” open eyes. Repeat if necessary…but only once or at most twice! Repeating more than once can backfire into a  game of pretending they don’t know what to do!! Again always praise, note when the class or individual dancers to well so there is a reward for doing it right! Ex: “Ooo the front line is looking very straight now. I see Sara’s eyes forward. Nice job.” – or – “Oh my goodness, class! I knew you could do it if you paid attention!”

Happy Teaching & Parenting!  ~ Linda

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