Would you agree that children need to be taught the ins and outs of the world? (I really hope you said yes, but I’ll still like you if you didn’t). They need to be taught morals, social, academic and safety skills as well as so much more.
Why then do we do things like tell a child who is licking a window…to stop? And just leave it there. Yes, an argument could be made that we do it because we are stressed out, overwhelmed and exhausted.
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter why we do it. The missing piece is teaching a replacement behavior. If your child is licking a window, tell them not to (of course), but also tell them why not to and show them what they can lick. (I’m wondering if I could have used a better example than licking a window…but I have your attention maybe?)
- Encourage independence
- Lower the need for discipline
- Promote self-esteem and confidence
Teaching a replacement behavior is one way we teach our children right from wrong. If you show your child how you would like them to do something, they won’t need to ask you for help. Which means there is less of a chance you will get frustrated by them doing something different from how you want them to. Hmmm that’s a bit wordy…let me try a different way.
Let’s say your child is full of energy (like, more than usual) and to expel some of this energy they begin jumping on the couch.
You tell them to stop. But, does this keep them from needing to get rid of that extra energy?
What if you ask nicely?
What if you explain to them it’s dangerous?
Even if they listen and actually stop jumping on the couch, if they still have a case of the wiggles, then they are going to find another way to shake them out (or is that the sillies you shake out?). If you don’t provide them with another way, they might come up with one on their own. And there is a chance it could be worse than jumping on the couch.
I’m not saying you don’t do all that I mentioned above. I’m saying go one step further and give them a replacement behavior. Something they can do that is going to provide them with a similar experience as the one they’re seeking.
Side-note: This is not the same as redirection. Redirection would be pointing them away from what they are doing towards something mainly unrelated in an attempt to distract them.
Let’s put this into play –
- Child is jumping on the couch
- You calmly ask them to stop, explaining that it is dangerous and that you don’t want them to get hurt
- You show them a more appropriate activity for getting out their extra energy:
- Running outside
- Pulling hard on a theraband that is tied to a banister or something just as sturdy
BOOM! You just encouraged independence, showing them how to self soothe.
I like to say “teach them to fish”. As in the English proverb “if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime”. Hand that kid a fishing pole, kick back and enjoy the quiet.
2-Lower the need for discipline
If we don’t teach our children appropriate alternatives to undesired behavior, we are setting them up to require more discipline than necessary. Some of which will come at the hand of other caregivers. We’re also setting ourselves up for more frustration than necessary.
Not every caregiver disciplines the same. And as we’ve all heard a million times, consistency is key. Sometimes this difference is so slight it wouldn’t cause a stir. Sometimes philosophies are so different that it can be detrimental to all involved.
For example, if my child were with someone who thought it their place to spank him…I would lose my shit! But, more importantly, it would completely rock my son’s world because that isn’t a form of punishment I use.
This scenario would also damage, if not destroy, the relationship between my child and this adult. What if it was a family member or just someone they had to see on a regular basis? Awkward!
Now, teaching a replacement behavior isn’t going to shield your child from other caregivers. But, it will help significantly.
More importantly though, it will help you!
3-Promote Self-Esteem and Confidence
Independence can increase anyone’s self esteem, but especially that of a child. The better half of a child’s life is dictated. Teaching them how to do something for themselves or how to do something the appropriate way, this gives them some control. Having that control elevates self-worth.
Constant punishment will almost definitely lower a child’s confidence. Let’s say your young son doesn’t always make it in the pot when he uses the restroom. Now, there are many possible reasons this is happening. But most of them involve the fact that he’s too young to fully understand the physics involved.
If every time this happens you are punishing him in one way or another, what is this telling him? That they are incompetent. And given they don’t know how to keep from getting in trouble for this (because they haven’t been given a replacement behavior teaching them how to aim) it builds a slippery slope.
To keep with the dramatics, let’s say he gets in trouble so often and so harshly that he stops going to the bathroom at the house. This could lead to him going in the yard, having accidents, wetting the bed, etc. Obviously, this is not going to help with his self-esteem. But, it’s also a perfect example of how blocking the behavior without teaching an appropriate alternative can be an issue for all involved. They will find a way to meet their need, so teach them to do so in a way you feel is fitting.
There is a bonus reason….it will lower your stress level exponentially! So, the next time you find yourself telling your child no, ask yourself if you’ve taught them how to do it in the first place. If not, then this is what we call a teaching opportunity. Take advantage and teach that kid to fish!
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