More is Caught than Taught

by Andrea Wackerle

By: Dr. Liz Simpson

Model the behaviors you desire to facilitate:  “more is caught than taught”

When my daughter was in third grade. I was called to the principle’s office. Apparently, my daughter was excluding her friends on the playground. When I got there, the principal explained that Emily had a list of all of the names of the people in her class. She took the list to the playground with her. She would ask a friend to play a game and if they refused she would put a check by their name. If they did not do what she asked again, after three strikes they were crossed off her “friend” list.  Emily proudly showed me the list. I was shocked and extremely dismayed that my loving, kind compassionate child was behaving this way. Where did she learn this behavior? I asked to see her classroom. Sure enough, on the board were three names. By each name the teacher either had a check, two checks or three checks with a line drawn through the child’s name. It is a technique I was familiar with as a teacher, called assertive discipline. She was merely doing what the teacher was doing to encourage compliance. Ahhh, the light went on.

Our children are watching us. How we handle frustration, disappointment, whether we judge or blame or whether we are compassionate and kind with others, we are planting a seed in our children. And if they see our negative behaviors over and over, they will start to emulate them, because they trust that we know what we are doing.

The good news is, if they see us struggle but bend toward kindness and compassion, they will emulate that as well.

This weekend, observe yourself through your child’s eyes. Listen to the words and the tone of what you are saying. Watch how you handle frustration and anxiety. Even better, talk out loud to yourself so they can hear you make corrections and change course. It will give them the tools they need to do the same.


Consider modifying the environment to produce behavioral results

Technology– Don’t put a TV or computer in your child’s bedroom. There are many well-researched reasons for this 1. It is overstimulating, 2. You don’t know what they are watching that could be disturbing to them 3. They need to have their bedroom reserved for sleep and thus will fall asleep faster, 4. TV and computer are environments with people trying to gain your child’s attention. Many things modeled on TV are not appropriate for your child’s development. You would not turn them loose in any other environment that was not good for their development like a bar, or the wilderness alone.

Video games- If you have bought a video game for your child, you need to invest the time and play the game, or games with your child whenever possible- at least three times a week. You need to be aware of the addicting aspects of the game so you can mediate them. You also need to see the skills involved in playing the game so you can help your child see those skills in other challenges they may take on.

Rules and expectations– Have rules and expectations for each environment in your home. For example- The dinner table- how to eat, how to take turns in a conversation, etc. all are learned at the dinner table. Honor those lessons and create rules that keep behavior expectations at the table consistent.

Organization-Have a system for organization that everyone can follow. A place for coats, keys, etc.  If your child’s room is a mess, buy some milk crates or bins and color code and label them. Then teach your child, by working beside them, how to use the bins and organize their space. You might need to help a few times and perhaps make some minor adjustments until it works best for your child, but it will work.

Time management. Have a family calendar prominently place on the refrigerator or in some other common space with everyone’s schedule penciled in. Use kitchen timers or timers on the phone to help your child keep up with how much time they have before they need to quit one activity and another activity starts. Use creative alarm clocks to help your child wake up in the morning and soothing music, a book on tape or a noise machine to help them go to sleep at night. Of course, if you can be consistent, reading to them yourself is ideal!