Parent Mistake 1: Not Teaching A “Replacer” Behavior & the Parenting Solution

by | Jun 27, 2009 | Uncategorized

Of course parents want to do the right thing so their kids grow to be happy, confident and successful. But over fifty years of child development research shows we may be making a few minor parenting mistakes that could have major impact in how our kids turn out.

TODAY asked me to share a few mistakes that parents routinely (and unintentionally) do that derail their efforts. So here are is my choice for the top five biggies, their impact, and simple corrections to turn them around. Research shows that using these simples parenting techniques–the right way–can help our children become more resilient and confident, as well as better behaved. Here is the first big mistake:

MISTAKE #1. Failing to Teach A “Replacer” Behavior  

PARENTING SOLUTION: Show your child what you expect him to do to “replace” the wrong behavior. 

The classic example of this mistake is when the child is in the toy store aisle and is having an exorcism because he won’t buy him the toy. (Yea mom!)  And mom is yelling frantically:  “Calm down! You need to calm down!” So far so good, right? The problem maybe this: Does the child really know how to calm down? Did Mom stop to show him how? If not, there’s the big mistake. The child will continue to use the same wrong behavior because he really may not know another way of behaving. It’s a frequent and always unintentional parenting boo-boo: “Stop whining!” “Be more respectful!” “Stop biting your nails!” “Get more organized!” “Go make your bed. But this time do it right!” 

The parenting mistake is assuming our kids know what behavior you want them to do instead. Don’t assume! The result: the child is less likely to be a “repeat offender.”  Always teach a new behavior or skill to replace the inappropriate one.  It’s a simple parenting solution. 

Here are simple examples of how to teach replacer behaviors so kids are less likely to continue using the same inappropriate error and adopt a new and more appropriate one.

  • Show don’t tell. Your toddler is pulling the dog’s fur. Call out the wrong behavior: “Don’t pull the doggies fur. It hurts.” Then show the replacer behavior. “Watch Mommy. My hand pets the doggie’s fur gently. See how his tail wags?” Point on this one: Kids are more likely to learn a new behavior if you show — no tell — them how to do it right
  • Redo the right way. Your child whines. “That is a whiney tone. Listen to my nice tone. Now you try.” Or “You can’t grab, but you can use your words to tell your brother you want a turn. Let’s practice a few times then you can use it with your brother.” The more the child practices a new behavior the more likely he will incorporate that behavior.
  • Teach the new skill. For a younger kid, say: “When you start to feel yourself getting mad take big Dragon Breaths.” For an older kid, say: “Take a deep slow breath, and count slowly to ten.” Let’s do it together. 
  • Tell your child to teach the skill to someone. This is called the “cross-age tutoring approach.” Teachers have used this technique for years because it works. The technique: If a child teaches what he has just learned to another person he is more likely to incorporate the new habit into his own daily life. Have your child teach the new skill to Dad, younger brother, Grandma, the dog or the teddy bear. The more you do it, the more likely you’ll remember it.
  • Catch him doing it right.  Kids are always more likely to repeat a behavior if we reinforce them doing it the right way. So look for those moments your child stays calm, says “Please,” writes down his homework. The moment may be few and far between but tune in and then the moment he demonstrates the “replacer” behavior, acknowledge it! 

Look for the next common mistake and the parenting solution in my next blog.

Get more Parenting Solutions by following @MicheleBorba on Twitter.

Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming The Big Book of Parenting Solutions available this fall. Portions of this blog are excerpted from this book.