Parent Mistake 4. Not Using the Rule of 21 to Change Behavior

by | Jul 2, 2009 | Uncategorized

Every day this week, I’ll be posting a different big “parenting mistake”, so make sure to check back. Here is the fourth most common parenting mistake.


MISTAKE #4. Not Using the Rule of 21
Solution: Faithfully stick to changing one behavior at least for three weeks to reap results. 

A big parenting mistake is not sticking to a behavior plan long enough. The result: No behavior change. Changing behavior is a gradual process requiring commitment and repetition. In fact, learning a new habit takes around 21 days of consistent work. By faithfully using the “Rule of 21” you’re more likely to get the desired behavior result.

Hint: Watch out for a “backslide effect” Just before behavior changes it sometimes worsens. The child is testing so don’t give in!

  • Target 1 behavior. You won’t be so overwhelmed and are more likely get lasting change. So instead of trying to change your child’s whining, nagging, biting, hitting (or whatever), target only one behavior at a time. For instance, this month aim to curb that backtalk. 
  • Relay plan to at least one caregiver. You’ll get faster results if you’re on the same page with other caregivers who see your child on a regular basis. I’m not suggesting you advertise your intentions to the world. You do want to preserve your child’s dignity. But do tell Grandma or the coach, teacher, babysitter, day care worker or any other person who works with your child which behavior you are targeting and the best way to respond. This will also help your child know you are serious about changing this behavior. 
  • Track efforts in a calendar. Behavior changes are gradual. If the behavior plan is right you should see a gradual diminishment in the inappropriate behavior. But the problem is we’re often so wrapped up in our daily parenting (and every other thing that we do) that we may not see those subtle successes. A quick tip: Just take a monthly calendar and mark how many times each day (simple tallies will do) that you have to remind your child to stop that whine. Be consistent with your tracking. You’ll be able to see improvement by reviewing the calendar from when you started. 
  • Commit to 21 days. Consistently stick to your plan for 21 days or however long it takes! The most important rule about behavior change is that new habits or skills generally take a minimum of 21 days of repetition. Once that change happens you’ll also have to keep reviewing the change to make it be permanent. But then the real goal of parenting is for our kids to act right without us, right? So don’t give up for at least 21 days!

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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming this Fall, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions and now available for purchase online. Portions of this blog are excerpted from this book.