The way we have been taught to be the “pack leader” of our canine pets is to NOT make eye contact with them, while looking over their heads. And, especially NOT smile and make eye contact. (This most difficult for us highly socialized creatures in a culture where eye contact and smiling is essential for establishing that we are “nice” and “cooperative” and probably won’t start an argument.)
[Please note: I am going to refer to anyone between the ages of 4 and 17 as a “kid,” rather than repeating “child and pre-adolescent and adolescent.]
But how do we establish our position as “Pack Leader” of kids? Even when the kid is a stranger to us? Especially when we are that person of authority who really wants to be Nice and Approachable?
(You may want to review my blog post on “You Have Red Shoe Laces” as a gentle way of conveying adult to child respect. But sometimes, when “Red Shoe Lace” child enters your domain, you have to do more than notice the color of laces. Isn’t it wonderful that we are all not the same? That means every once in a while we run into Susie-never-follows-rules; and, Johnny-makes-a-mess. Yes, sometimes the color of shoe laces is a little lacking for asserting authority.)
Here are the guidelines for coping with “testing-type kids” when you are in an authority position:
- Keep a serious face at all times. Not angry. Serious.
- Make eye contact.
- Don’t talk, yet.
- Hold up your index finger (as in “wait”)
- (For Harry Potter fans, think of Professor McGonagall)
- Remember: Keep a serious face at all times. Not angry. Serious.
- When you have the kid’s full attention (ages 4 to 17), you may choose to remain silent and use head or hand gesture (no, not that one) to indicate what you want to happen.
- In this silent route, you will totally remain silent, as will the kid, probably, and life will resume with more compliance from kid.
- If you chose to speak, then say something like, “It looks as though you have a problem.”
- Let kid acknowledge the problem. Kid will nod her head or look guilty. Sometimes the kid will offer something like, “I’m not supposed to be running.”
- Nod your understanding and say, “Thank you.” Then silently point the kid back to the chair, the group, the parent, etc.
- If kid does not acknowledge problem, then you will clearly identify the problem. For example: “Running is for outside, not in this store.” “Singing is for bands and choirs, not in this library.” “Fighting is for boxing ring, not in this arcade.”
- Remain silent, no lecturing, threatening, cajoling, are throwing up your hands in total frustration.
- Keep eye contact with a serious face.
- Kid will usually comply and not “test” you again.
I can hear you now. “But kids aren’t that nice, anymore. They TEST, TEST, TEST!”
For the kid who is really testing your authority, you will need to seek a higher authority. (No, this is not NA or AA or any other A.) The higher authority can be a written rule displayed in signage. A parent. A boss. The kid’s teacher or chaperone. (The door.)
Ah, but what happens when the sought after higher authority can not cope with the testing and the kid is “in charge?”
Follow the above strategy for beleaguered authority figures or authority figures who have been taught to cope by defending or ignoring their kid’s negative behaviors.
If all fails, recognize that you do not have the “rules” in place that provides you the ability to assume authority over those entering your domain.
You may want to establish some “Refrigerator Rules” that are clearly visible to all that enter. This is a great way to establish that the Rules are in charge and that you are just pointing (silently) them out to those who need a gentle reminder.
Here’s to the people who work in difficult authority positions: museum staff, park and recreational attendants, librarians, wait staff, classroom aides, store employees, parent volunteers for any event, and cinema staff. Please feel free to add to this list.
Remember: eye contact with silent, serious expression.