You Know Better

“You know better.” It’s something I often to say to my kindergarteners when they’re doing something they should not be…and know it. Depending on the student, it immediately ends the unwanted behavior (usually something like pushing or not sharing or talking in line) but for others, I’ve realized that even if they know better, they just don’t have the skills to do better. For example…

Liam (changed name) is, sorry, INCREDIBLY ANNOYING. Imagine the most typical toddler you can, and he fits that mold. Almost nil impulse control, has a hard time focusing for more than a few minutes at a time, it takes him 2-3 minutes longer than other students in every task, and he throws a very respectable temper tantrum. Now listen, don’t get me wrong, I adore this kid. He’s intelligent and funny and incredibly sweet when he’s not busy talking out of turn and over other students. He’s on a behavior plan, which entails him earning smiley faces for good behavior. Usually rewards based behavior systems bother me because I think extrinsic motivation only motivates students to work for a prize, not work because it’s the right thing to do, but this system seems to work without the smiley faces leading to some sort of prize or other reward. At the end of each day, my CT fills out a small slip of paper telling his Liam’s parents how many smiley faces he has earned (two other students are on the same behavior plan).

Unfortunately, last week and today have made me question, how can we better help Liam be a good classroom citizen? Control his impulse to be heard when it’s not appropriate for him to be talking? Because the smiley faces haven’t seemed to be working. My CT and I talk about him to great lengths and try to think of other ways to help him control his own behavior. Sometimes it means in a moment we have to ask him to be a good citizen, to be mature, to act like a kindergartener (being a kindergartener is a very big deal to a kindergartener) and remind him that he’s strong and tough and we know he can do it. It’s really hard to know what else to do with such a young child. I mean, what can you really expect from five and six year olds in terms of behavior and recognizing there are other people your behavior affects? Is this a discussion you can have with a kindergartener?

I realize this post is mostly questions, because I’d really like some advice. If you have students like this in your classroom, what do you do?


  1. I want to start out by saying that I have very little experience with Kindergarteners, but I have worked with preschool aged children.
    Several years ago, the Director of the child care center I worked at wanted to stop using the term, “you know better”. His reasoning was often the child doesn’t know better (like in Liam’s case), they may not know what you are referring to or they end up feeling guilty or shamed instead of thinking about how they can correct the problem.
    My go-to phrase for unwanted behavior was always, “No thank-you, I don’t like it when you __________ (or it isn’t safe when you ______, it disturbs your friends when you ______, etc.) This can also be followed with a quick statement of what you are expecting from the child. I think these simple phrases, kept short and with a lot of repetition could help Liam.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s