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- Social Emotional Articles by Stephanie Lawless
Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/29/2022 7:30:00 AM
My six-year-old can sometimes experience big feelings like the rest of us. This is accompanied with the most hard-headed stubborn streak I have ever experienced. (It might be a little exaggeration but I am going to stand by my statement). When he gets in a snit it can be a while before he cools down. Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated waiting for him to get over whatever it is that he is upset about. Which makes me grumpy and irritable. In December we did some holiday shopping at Kohl's. I had convinced him to sit in the cart to avoid having him run around the store. He was not very happy about it but he accepted his fate. A few minutes in, he wanted to look at a toy but I kept moving. He expressed his frustration with the fact he was “sitting in the baby chair” and could not do what he wanted. I chose to ignore this statement. He responded by grabbing things hanging on racks and kicking his feet down to block the wheels from rolling. I was frustrated because I only needed to get a few things and it was crowded and I was hot and didn’t want to deal with this. I considered my options as “grandmas” around me started to watch his mini meltdown. I knew giving him a consequence would only make his outburst bigger and I really just needed to get my shopping done. I considered just pushing him right out of the store and leaving, but I JUST NEEDED TO GET MY SHOPPING DONE. In my head I thought, the deadly behavior management question, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” followed by, “CAN’T YOU JUST BE COOL FOR A FEW MINUTES AND LET ME GET MY STUFF DONE?” There might have been a few other words in my head that I won’t share here. And then it happened, I had a serendipitous moment. I looked over and saw a space kitty shirt. I squatted down in front of him and quietly said, “I can tell you are upset with me and I understand that you want out of the chair. Right now I am not going to let you out. This is called an impasse and clearly our only option is to have a cat fight.” At which point, I held my hands out and started swatting at his hands gently but dramatically, making cat sounds. Now a few things happened: (1) The looks from the people around me increased A LOT. (2) Both of my boys started laughing. (3) I was able to talk to my six-year-old calmly. We resolved the issue, I was able to get what we needed and we left. Mission accomplished.
Now, “cat fighting” is one of their preferred methods of calming down. We have rules: elbows have to stay next to your body, hands have to stay open, and no one can get hurt. If it sounds ridiculous, it is because it is. But that is entirely the point.
Using humor to deescalate a situation has been referenced by several behaviorists. Dr. Randy Sprick talked about it in his Behavioral Response to Intervention book. During a training I attended, he stated that humor was extremely effective at keeping everyone calm and moving forward. Dr. Sprick also points out that you need some guidelines for humor. Humor has to be done with dignity and respect. “Avoid publicly humiliating students when you correct their behavior. Use humor sparingly, respectfully, and only with students you have a positive and respectful relationship with.” (MTSS for Behavior: Prevention and Intervention, Dr. Randy Sprick) When you do need to “be serious” you need to make sure they understand you are not joking. He suggested using a statement like, “ This is important. Please..." and then give the directive. (You Can't Make Me, BY RANDY SPRICK).
Generally, people like to laugh, it cuts the tension, helps us reset and move forward. It is a great way to avoid a power struggle and show kids that we don’t have to always be so serious. When I was teaching I constantly had to remind myself to lighten up. I could have fun with the students and relax a bit, especially when things got tense,
“Use humor to defuse a confrontation. By responding with humor to a defiant student, the teacher signals to that student in a face-saving manner that his or her behavior is not yet so disruptive or confrontational as to be a violation of the behavior code. The student can join the teacher in laughing off the event and return to participation in class activities. Instructors should exercise caution, though, when using humor to defuse confrontations. First, teachers should never use humor in a sarcastic or teasing manner, as the student is quite likely to feel disrespected and become even angrier as a result (Walker, 1997). Second, if an instructor employs humor successfully to defuse a tense situation with a student, the adult should still make it a point to meet with the student privately later to talk about the incident and to ensure that the student understands the inappropriateness of his or her confrontational behavior (Braithwaite, 2001). Above all, the teacher does not want the student to feel 'rewarded' with humor for confronting the adult, as this response may actually make the student more likely to react aggressively towards the teacher in the future.” (Dodging the Power Struggle)
A study was actually conducted to determine the pros and cons of using humor to teach in college classes. I bet that was a fun research topic!
“The use of humor in the college classroom has been researched extensively (see Segrist & Hupp, 2015 who summarized 41 years of literature on humor in the college classroom) and has been shown to have many benefits for students (Banas, Dunbar, Rodriguez & Liu, 2011; Garner, 2006; Huss & Estep, 2016; Pollio, 2002), some of which are:
- An increase in learning.
- An increase in self-motivation.
- An increase in class attendance.
- An increase in test performance.
- An increase in divergent thinking.
- An increase in interest in learning.
- A reduction of anxiety and stress in dealing with difficult material.
- The creation of a positive social and emotional learning environment.
- The creation of a common psychological bond between students and faculty.
McKeachie and Svinicki (2006) summed up these positive consequences of humor quite succinctly when they said that transmitting knowledge through informal methods such as humor can produce and sustain interest and deep learning in students.” (Using humor in the college classroom: The pros and the cons Should you be the class comedian?, By Drew C. Appleby, PhD)
Now notice the article is about the pros and CONS. Meaning, you can mess it up. Taking a reference from Sprick, if it is mean don’t do it. If it is going to hurt someone’s feelings don’t do it. Dr. Appleby shares the same thoughts and adds, if you can’t do it naturally don’t do it. I would also add that you need to know your audience and what you can get away with. I very strategically choose when I will use humor and when it is not appropriate. In the end, given the choice of an argument or a good laugh, I will pick the laugh any day because, “A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.” — Madeleine L’Engle
(BTW, if you NEED a good laugh today, look up videos of funny cat fights, it is worth the time!)
Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director