4 ways to respond to kids who love the last word

“Don’t do it!”

I sat in the back of the classroom and I saw a fourteen-year-old student taunt his teacher in a way that only young adolescent boys can do.

The teacher asked the student to get back to work and stop disturbing others, reminding him that his behaviour was out of order.

The student grudgingly resumed his task. But just before he put his head down, he threw out a comment about it being a stupid piece of work that he had to do.

This young fella’ threw down an ‘imaginary rope’ (the last word, a taunt, a jibe, a joke) for the teacher to pick up.

“Don’t pick it up! Just let it go!” I thought as I sat in the back of the room. He was getting back to work. This was the boy’s way of saving face in front of his mates.

The teacher picked up the imaginary rope and began a tirade of abuse that was extremely personal.

I detected the slightest grin the student’s face that said “Gotchya!” The teacher’s remarks were like water off a duck’s back. He revelled in them and I watched as his status amongst his male peer group just went up a number of notches.

Okay, so what’s the point?

The hard part of dealing with kids, whether you are a teacher or a parent, is to ignore some of their ‘last wordedness’ and the verbal comments they throw our way.

I am not suggesting that we ignore all taunts or rude remarks but there are many occasions when we should just leave the ‘imaginary rope’ where is lies. Usually when we ‘pick up the rope’ we turn into a child!

‘Throwing the rope’ is so effective as behind most conflict between kids and adults are the deeper issues of:

  • Power (“I want to make you do this”),
  • Position (“I’m the adult so you should listen to me”) and
  • Prestige (“I want others to think I’m doing a good parenting job”).

Arguments, last-wordedness or comeback lines, which are often about kids saving face, threaten our position or prestige as parents or teachers. “You can’t say that to me, I am the adult,” is the type of thinking that brings us undone every time.

They are also a way of kids saying that I will acquiesce to you but on my terms, which is about power.

Four alternatives to picking up the rope:

1. Stop, smile, ignore and walk away.

2. If the issue was important, choose the right time and place to talk to your child about their behaviour.

3. If it’s not important, let it pass. Some kids just value the fight so don’t fight.

4. Use humour to diffuse the situation. Self-deprecating humour works well; sarcasm doesn’t work.

Next time a child ‘throws the rope’ by having the last word or using a quick throw-away line, realise what is happening. Look at the imaginary rope, smile and refuse to pick it up. That is the adult thing to do.

Hard work, but essential if we are going to be successful at bringing out the best in kids’ behaviour.

For more ideas to manage last-wordedness and make other improvements to children’s behaviour check out my book One Step Ahead, my behaviour management tome.