Saturday, December 10, 2011

Persuading a Stubborn Student

Couple days back, Ashleigh, my co-worker at Adventure Time, told me to get a particular student from the play structure and back to the portable because he needed to change his clothes. She didn't explain why he needed to change his clothes. I just cooperated with her request, but I was still kind of wondering as I exited the portable. "Did he pee in his pants? Did he simply get them dirty? Why does he need to change his clothes?"

So, I get to the play structure. Both him and his sister are sitting on the bench directly behind the play structure. He is in kindergarten and his sister is in 2nd grade. He was whimpering a bit and his sister was comforting him. I told him that he needed to come inside to change his clothes. He had an aversive response to that request. I asked his sister what happened to his clothes. Apparently, he dropped soup on his pants, so his pants were soaked in it. I'm guessing that him changing his clothes was just a part of company policy, so I tried to abide by it.

At first, I was just asking him to come inside to change his clothes. I asked him a couple times and both times, his response was unwaveringly aversive. He did not want to come inside to change his clothes. So, I stop requesting that he come inside the portable to change his clothes. Instead, I start ordering him to come inside to change his clothes. Still no good. He wouldn't budge. I asked him why he didn't want to change his clothes. He said its because he doesn't want to wear someone else's clothes since that's what we would have had him do.

I asked Krista, another one of my co-workers, for advice. She said that Marcus (again, another co-worker) would just lift students up and take them where he needs to if they would not cooperate. I didn't want to do that because I was hoping that I could get this kindergartner to go to the portable through his own will. I told Ashleigh that he was being stubborn and he wouldn't come inside. She replied, "Well, regardless, he needs to be inside." That gave me an idea.

I went back outside to the kindergartner. This time, I didn't say anything about him changing his clothes. This time, I just told him that I'd like him to come into the portable. He had no problem with that request. As we walked to the portable, he asked, "Am I going to change my clothes?" I replied, "Nope. We'll just be in the portable for a bit." And actually, he ended up not getting his clothes changed. Don't ask me why. They could have forgotten or him simply remaining in the portable while he wore soiled clothes complied with company policy. I don't know.

Anyway, this is the bottom line that I extract from this story. If you cannot get a student to do exactly what it is that you want them to do, then request that they perform that action which is closest to exactly what you want them to do. In my case, I couldn't persuade the kindergartner to come inside to the portable to change his clothes, but I could persuade him to come inside the portable.


  1. Hmm... interesting. So you were not aware that he would end up not having to have his clothes changed?

    Don't you think if the student did end up having his clothes changed after your verbal promise ("Nope. We'll just be in the portable for a bit"), he might be less susceptible to the method next time though?

  2. You're right. He would be less susceptible. In which case, I would just pick him up and carry him over to the portable.

    Gave him an opportunity to come of his own will. He lost that opportunity by refusing to come in to change his clothes. Once losing the opportunity, I'm just trying to think of whatever strategy I can to get him to come inside.

    In retrospect, I'm not sure what is worse. Being dishonest to him or picking him up and carrying him over. For the former, if I said that he would not change, but I make him change, then I would be deceptive. For the latter, if I carry him, my intentions are clear, but I coerce him into fulfilling them.