Put the Person in Charge

A mother of a young boy shared with me her frustration. One of her sons was constantly getting up from the table during dinner, thereby disrupting the environment she wanted to maintain during meal time.

I suggested that she think of the EXACT OPPOSITE of what her son was doing. I then suggested that she put her son in charge of that responsibility.

The conversation would go something like this:
“Jay, I need your help. I want you to be in charge of having all members of the family remain seated during dinner.”


Here, then, is the two-step process:

(1) Put the person in charge of the opposite of what the person is doing. (2) Articulate what you want (I need your help, assistance, leadership, etc.), and then put the person in charge of it.

People like to be in charge. When in charge, the person performs the appropriate behavior because incongruity (doing the opposite of what the person is in charge of) is very difficult for young people.

Following are some additional examples that work every time.

A primary student does not complete assigned table work.
“I need your help. I would like you to be in charge of noticing who at your table completes the assigned work. Let me know at the end of the day who was successful.

(Notice that the phrasing is in the positive; it’s not about who doesn’t complete the work.)

The middle school class procedure was to clean and organize desks before dismissal on Fridays. One student continually dumped stuff on the desk and took an excessive amount of time to clean and organize the materials.
“I need your help. I would like you to be in charge of the desks by going around and keeping track of whose desk is clean and orderly.
(The student didn’t wait until Friday. He started checking on Thursday.)

The high school student continued to came to school tardy.
“I need your help. I would like you to make sure everyone is seated on time when the bell rings.
(The student not only started to come to class on time but also improved his appearance and school attire.)

This approach to changing behavior immediately is foolproof.
If it doesn’t work, reflect: Did you think of the exact opposite? Did you use the exact wording of putting the person in charge and phrasing the responsibility in positive terms?