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Teaching Strategies For Tough Kids

A sanity kit for the teachers of Manipulators 

Motto: "Whatever it takes!"  

  • can wrap teachers around their little finger, eat them for breakfast, hoodwink them, and charm the socks off them, 
  •  can bully other children,
  • are very, very good at playing cute to adults,
  • are determined and somewhat single-minded, and 
  • are extremely ambitious and goal-focused. 
One great example is Angelica from Rugrats.
Teaching Strategies For Tough Kids

Helping Manipulators to change 

Congratulations, you have a bright, focused, ambitious, goal-directed child with fantastic leadership potential in your class.
Being the teacher of a Manipulator takes thinking through. The first thing is that it can take a while before you identify all of the Manipulators in your class. Some of them are camouflaged by niceness. Some of them are the high-flying students of your school. Look for the kids who always want to be top dog, at almost any cost. Look for the kids who other children are careful not to upset. Sometimes very popular children can be Manipulators.

Make sure you contact the parents of these kids early in the year, and get them on your side. If an incident does occur, you are much more likely to be successful if your relationship with the parent(s) is positive.

Remember, many of these kids can lie without guilt, and have had years of practice at making themselves look good to adults. Many parents of Manipulators are in denial; some will argue for their children against all reason. If this is the case, don't spend hours trying to convince the unpersuadable. Instead, direct your energies towards helping the child flourish at school.

Manipulators have heaps of skills to develop, and can grow up to be wonderful contributors to society. They do, however, need to learn to give up their sneaky ways. Manipulators change when they finally encounter an adult who:
  • has got their number,
  • can call them out, and
  • has eyes in the back of his or her head. 
With Manipulators, I recommend asking one school staff member to take on that student as a "personal change" project. The idea is that the staff member will make it their business to catch up regularly with the Manipulator - so much so that the child rarely has an inch to move. For example, the staff member on lunchtime playground duty might say to the Manipulator, "Come on, you're coming with me." The Manipulator might then plead and complain, "But I haven't done anything wrong." To which the staff member responds, "No, but you might. Come on."
What is always fascinating to watch in schools is the process Manipulators go through when we do this. At first they will whine and carry on, and say something like, "It's not fair, why do I have to stay with you? I want to play with my friends." After a while, however, they form a bond with that adult unlike any other connection they have ever had. This is because, for the first time, they have encountered an adult who has them really worked out. The comfort that the Manipulators feel may not always be expressed immediately as gratitude, but they are usually able to change and broaden as people.

In the classroom, use structured group work with alternating roles and leadership. Keep mixing the students into different groupings. Introduce a healthy relationship program, including bullying prevention, and redirect their leadership abilities in a positive manner. As Manipulators can be fantastic leaders, get them to take on different constructive roles; be prepared to temporarily take away the extra role if they begin to act negatively.

Manipulators can engage in covert nastiness against other children. After such an incident, have all the students involved write down their account of it. Keep these records on file.

Confront Manipulators at their own game and take a proactive role, with much more adult supervision. Probably the worst situation in a school is when two Manipulators fight it out for supremacy of the social territory. This is anything but angelic! Separate them. Confront each one directly. Put them on notice and then engage the support of other staff to keep a close eye on them. To find out more, you can check out Teaching Strategies For Tough Kids.