Question:  I have a student that will scream as loud as he can. If you say, “Quiet voice” or anything like that he’ll answer with, “You be nice!” and then scream again. When he does this, he gets other children copying him. Any suggestions? We’ve used a lot of praise for when he is quite and works well, but this hasn’t worked. Even giving him choices won’t help. How do we get him to quiet down?

Myrna Shure:  I can understand how frustrating it must feel to try different ways to change a behavior and see none of them work. It is quite possible that this child is finding his way to seek attention, and getting other children to copy him only reinforces his way. Try to think of ways to give this child special attention at times he is not screaming. For example, try letting him be the “teacher” during circle time when a game is being played. If you call on children to have a turn doing something, let him call on children. If a game involves different motions of the body, let him come up to the front and choose a motion for the rest of the children to follow. Of course you want to let all children be “teacher” so they don’t think this child is your favorite, but giving him the opportunity to feel special within reason might satisfy an unmet need.  

You can also help this child think about what he is doing and how it is making people feel. If he can feel genuine empathy for others, including you, he won’t want to behave in ways that make you angry, or frustrated. Try asking the following questions:
“How do you think I feel when you scream in the classroom?”
“Can you think of a way to tell me what you want in a different voice?”
If he comes up with appropriate responses, say, “You’re a very good problem solver. How do you feel when you solve problems so well?”

Children are much more likely to respond when they think of their own ideas than they are when we tell them what to do, and even explain why. If you let this child think of his own way to use his voice, in light of people’s feelings, he is much less likely to say thing like, “You be nice.”