This past Friday night we held Junior High Fun Night at our school – around sixty 7th and 8th graders spent 2 1/2 hours playing volleyball, basketball, ping-pong, foosball, video games, and board games. Of course, they spent lots of time just eating, talking and laughing together, too.
Some readers are thinking that sounds like a nightmare – all that time with junior high kids? I’m happy to say the biggest “problems” we had to deal with were kids trying to walk out of the “food room” with drinks in their hands, because they’d forgotten the rule about keeping all food and drinks in one classroom.
The evening’s success was due in no small part to the awesome kids and parents we have at our school. But there’s another reason for the lack of behavior problems, and it’s a technique I often used with my own sons when they were younger: being proactive about expectations for the event.
In the week before the Friday event, we teachers spent time with the students going over what the rules were for the evening, as well as reminding them that they needed to behave appropriately (and take responsibility for cleaning up their own messes). We do this before every field trip, as well. We’ve found that when we take the time to make very clear our expectations and standards for their behavior, they are much more likely to behave appropriately.
In my own home, my husband and I did this before family outings or big family gatherings. We let the boys know that they were expected to smile and shake hands when they were introduced, that they were to use their best manners at all times, that after spending a few minutes with the adults they were free to go off with each other (or with their cousins) and do “kid stuff,” etc. When the event was over, we’d tell them how proud we were of them.
Too often we adults expect the kids to automatically know how to behave, when the reality is that we’ve never taught them what they need to know. By making the effort to clarify ahead of time what your expectations are, you can head off many problems before they ever arise.
And maybe then you can relax and play, too!