How To Stop Students From Breaking The Same Rule Again And Again

How To Stop Students From Breaking The Same RulesSo you have this student.

Let’s call her Brittany. And Brittany frustrates you to no end.

Because despite holding her accountable, she continues to break the same rule over and over.

Oh, she may hold off for a few days, a week perhaps, but it inevitably happens again.

She pushes a classmate in line. She runs out to recess. She leaves her seat without permission.

Whatever the behavior, the scene plays out the same.

But the habit never breaks.

Now, it’s important to point out that if you’re not consistent, if you don’t enforce a consequence every time a rule is broken, then this is the first order of business.

Inconsistency is the number one reason students continue to break the same rules again and again. Shoring up this one area will eliminate most, if not all, recurring misbehavior.

There are, however, those rare students whose impulsiveness gets the better of them.

Despite knowing that you’ll hold them accountable, they can’t seem to help themselves. They see a clear pathway out to recess, for example, and the moment overwhelms them.

Their eyes light up. Their heart begins racing. They think, soccer, soccer, soccer . . . freedom, freedom, freedom . . . fun . . . laughter . . . friends!

The excitement of the moment so dominates their thoughts that nothing else occurs to them. They blurt out the answer. They shoulder a classmate out of line. They race to the playground without looking back.

So what’s the solution?

Well, if you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you know that pulling Brittany aside to discuss her persistent misbehavior is a mistake.

Questioning, lecturing, forcing assurances, and the like is too personal. It will only alienate her, create friction between you, and ultimately lead to more problems and misbehavior.

What she needs is much simpler than that. What she needs is an interruption of her impulsive habit.

What she needs is a reminder.

Now, in and of itself, offering reminders isn’t an uncommon strategy. Having learned what moments, activities, or times of day trigger a student’s misbehavior, many teachers do this.

The problem with the strategy, however, is that it singles her out. The other students can see you and often hear you reminding Brittany.

Which makes her feel different.

No, you’re not scarring her for life. But what you are doing is labeling her as incapable.

You’re telling her in a very subtle way that she is unlike other students, that she alone needs a reminder in order to control herself.

Before you know it, she is telling herself, and even friends and family members, that she has trouble controlling herself. It feels like a permanent condition she can do little about.

Although it may work in the moment, which is why the strategy is so common, your reminder is actually creating, reinforcing, and cementing a limiting belief she has about herself.

It has the opposite of the intended effect.

So how can you give Brittany a reminder in a way that helps her break the habit once and for all?

You remind the entire class.

Although Brittany may be the only one who pushes other students while jostling to get in line, you remind everyone.

You restate your expectations for the routine and then position yourself where every student can see you watching them carry it out.

In time, whole-class reminders combined with faithful accountability will break Brittany of her impulsive rule-breaking.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give reminders every time you transition or begin a routine. You’ll only give them during those moments throughout the day that seem to trigger her misbehavior.

Brittany, and other students like her, don’t need to be pulled aside for lectures, threats, and warnings. They don’t need your pep-talks, glares, or whispered admonishments.

They don’t need to be singled out at all. They just need one simple reminder.

Given to the entire class.

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9 Responses to How To Stop Students From Breaking The Same Rule Again And Again

  1. Jamie Cassidy April 7, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    I am new to your website, and your articles point out that I am doing everything exactly the wrong way (and it shows.) I am not a new teacher, but this year, due to the particular dynamics of both my students and my own personal life, I find myself much more frustrated at student behavior. Therefore, I would like to practice the remainder of this year for how I would like to begin next year.
    I read that I should be consistent, and have a step by step system. However, this article confused me, in that if I am being consistent and the kid still will not stop doing whatever–do I stop doing the steps for that child? Or does that individual just spend forever with all possible consequences?
    Also, once the time out step is given, and you have sent the letter home, and then the child returns from time out….what would the next step be on that particular day? Another time out?
    Finally, do you have any articles that address that end of the year feeling of: “Help, I feel exhausted and I know a change needs to come but I’m at the end of my rope. Do I tie the proverbial knot and hang on, or do I do a total overhaul (provided I can find the energy)?
    I realize these questions are involved, but perhaps you have a simple answer that I don’t see. Thank you for your site. I am taking your words to my weary heart.

  2. Valentina Obrien May 1, 2015 at 3:32 am #

    I have a question about reminding the whole class. What if students who are always behaving are getting tired of these reminders? I understand the perspective of singling out students and making them feel like they can’t control themselves. I can see my other students who always behave giving eyerolls or sighing. Any suggestions are welcome.

    • Michael Linsin May 1, 2015 at 6:16 am #

      Hi Valentina,

      This is a topic we’ve covered extensively and in various forms on the website. However, I’ll be sure to address is more specifically in the future.


  3. Julie July 18, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    I had a student who insisted on cursing in class. I used the approach of reminding the whole class of the rules. I enforced the consequence. I called the parent who saw nothing wrong with this behavior and stated they encouraged cursing and saw nothing wrong with it. I found out this child had been exhibiting this behavior throughout elementary and middle school. Administration suggested I give that child a reward for not cursing. Which of course I did not do. Cursing is not to be tolerated under any circumstances. I then had other students asking if it was curse in my room. Of course I was adamate that cursing was not permitted. So how do you handle this when the parent and administration doesn’t support you?

    • Michael Linsin July 18, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi Julie,

      I’d enforce the consequence regardless. It’s a rule and you know it’s right, so enforce it. How others feel about it is irrelevant.


  4. Chris December 28, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Julie, sounds like your administration is doing a very poor job of supporting you and are unwilling to stand up to these parents. Talk about disrespectfulness. That student would be out of my class each time a curse word is spoken and sent directly to the office. They need to step up and deal with this.

    Also, depending on the age of the students I don’t necessarily agree with always reminding the whole class about behaviors. Always encourage and remind of positive expected behaviors throughout the day. However, some students need to be singled out privately, like in the hallway. It demonstrates to the other students that you mean business and won’t always be so patient.

  5. Kelly April 5, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I have liked other articles I’ve read on this website, but don’t agree with this advice. I find that those “rare” students that can’t correct behaviors are often students with ADHD and when you “remind” the whole class they don’t even hear you! Even if it’s very quiet. Although I teach Kindergarten, it could be different at older grade levels. I have found the saying “praise in public, correct in private” to be much more effective than blanket statements in early childhood. Students that are already doing a good job, which is most of the students grow tiresome of all these reminders and it wastes class time. For my repeat offenders I wait until everyone is busy and give a quick, very quiet reminder and I absolutely have seen behavior improve this year. Just thought I would give another perspective for early childhood.

  6. Karen Tidwell April 8, 2016 at 3:53 am #

    I completely agree with Kelly! I teach Preschool my children are 3’s and 4’s . The one child in question this year would not even blink at a blanket statement to the entire class. Example: “Remember to use walking feet as we go outside” would be followed by this child knocking two friends down on his way running out the door. His impulsive acts are continual through out the day. I have been Extremely consistent with rules and gentle reminders and despite this his impulsive sometime destructive behavior has continued. I am fairly certain due to his inability to sit still for any length of time and his extremely impulsive behavior that this child is ADHD. Any tips on how to manage his behavior?