Eliminate Unwanted Behaviors with One Look

When a child displays a behavior that you don't want them to, they're usually doing it to get a response. The human face has over 40 muscles that move, twitch, and show a range of emotions that kids just love to watch! Adults pay hundreds of dollars per seat, to see comedians like Jim Carrey, Sebastian Maniscalco, and Kevin Heart do facial expressions and contort their faces for laughs and entertainment. Why would children be any different? In Part 4 of Behavior Mastery, we will go over one particular look you can give a child, that will reduce unwanted behaviors.

As a preschool teacher, you are that comedian for that child and you perform for them, whether you know it or not. In my 15 years of teaching at preschools, I have seen kids fully engaged and entertained by their teacher’s, “disappointed look” or “surprised look”. Consider that the faces you make might be reinforcing the same behaviors you are looking to stop. Why? Because it’s funny! Just think about it, if you were bored in a room and someone came in to pattern interrupt your boredom, wouldn't you engage that person for entertainment? 

Children are natural emotional detection specialists. Because their language centers aren’t fully developed, they depend on facial expressions to detect what is going on.  Researchers have demonstrated that 7-month-old babies can tell the difference between two faces displaying different emotional expressions and 6 year olds recognized the emotions of happiness, sadness, and anger almost as well as the 16 year olds(https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2016.00015). However, they don’t recognize all emotions the same. Other emotions (such as fear, disgust, and surprise) are a little trickier to decipher, and their ability to recognize these emotions improves as they grow older.

Can you now see that when you make a surprised or disappointed look, your child might not be getting your “I’m so disappointed in you doing this” emotion, but they might think your reaction is funny! They will do the things they do when they are bored to make you do that funny look, again.

If you want behaviors to stop, you have to stop reinforcing the behaviors with your macro and micro expressions. The study of micro expressions by Paul Eckman is used by FBI profilers to get the truth from people’s facial expressions. Kids are already good at this, but they aren’t trying to tell if you are lying, they just want you to make funny faces! Your faces also provide connection. They do something silly and you react. They feel engaged and it gives them some needed stimulus.

So how do you communicate that you would like the behavior to stop? Without words or expressions. That’s right. You will no longer acknowledge the behavior with your words or body. This is where the power look comes in. 

Say we are in a class and you want all the kids to stand. You use the pre-frame to let the kids know: “I like the way you are standing! Do I want you sitting or do I want you STANDING?”. Most of your kids will follow, expect that one kid that always acts like he is not listening…but he is. He already has planned how to make you do that face when he doesn’t “listen”. 

So what do you do? The Power Look.

Keep rewarding the other children with praises “I love the way you’re standing!” and then when you look back at the child displaying the behavior, look at their forehead and sing “row, row, your boat” to yourself with no emotion in your face. Then, continue to praise the other kids again. The point is to remove all emotion and feedback for the child’s action so they no longer get the attention it once got, so they will get bored. To see an example go to minute 5:37 of the video in this article.

Watch this video to see the power look in action! https://tinyurl.com/37w7dv78

Children just want to connect, play, learn, and even sometimes do annoying things to get a laugh. Just like you. So next time you are dealing with a child displaying a behavior just let them be and start to teach them that you no longer will engage in that behavior. By using the Power Look, you can still acknowledge them, but they will not be rewarded with your fun facial expressions or connection.