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Use objective words, not subjective, to change behavior

Date: April 14th, 2016
By: Polly Bath

Polly Bath: Behavior is not “inappropriate,” and I want you to get that word out of your mind for a few minutes. This is a word we throw around on a regular basis, don’t we? “That’s inappropriate.”

We see a goal that says, “The child will respond appropriately to the adult direction.” What’s that mean? Tell me what you want to see. What is “inappropriate?” Think about somebody who’s never heard that word before, and someone comes at them and says, “That was inappropriate.”

What are they hearing? “Wo wo wo wo wo.” They don’t even know what you’re talking about. Things like “unacceptable.” “That’s unacceptable behavior.” What does that mean? We know that they somewhat get an idea they’re doing something wrong. We make an assumption, though, that they know what unacceptable is.

“Insubordinate” is my favorite high school one. I had a high school kid say to me one time, he said, “Hmm, if we think about the word insubordination, could any adult in any particular moment call us insubordinate, depending upon their mood?” I said, “Yeah, probably they could.”

Be careful with words that are not objective when we’re trying to work in changing behavior. We use these evaluative words. They’re all based on our definition.