Are you talking without teaching? Or teaching without talking?

When your child started crawling, did you say, “Hi sweetie, it’s time to start crawling now!” before he or she started working on those leg muscles and crawling around the house? Probably not.

When your child started walking, did you tell him or her, “Ok, it’s time to start walking!” and then they magically stood up on both feet and started walking around the house? Unless this was a set-up to show-off to your friends and family that your little one is now moving, it’s highly unlikely this was how your child learned to walk!

More likely, you provided close physical support for all of these milestones! Maybe with walking, you stood behind him or her, holding your child’s hands, and moving your feet along with theirs! Although you may have been talking to them while supporting them, “Look at you go, buddy! You almost walked to the couch!”, this verbal praise is different than instructing your child, “Ok, now move your left foot, ok great, now pick up your right leg….” At Behave Your Best, we like to call this type of teaching with physical guidance “nonverbal support.” We use nonverbal support to teach a new skill, especially if it’s a skill that your child regularly avoids or struggles through with a tantrum or other unwanted behaviors, such as standing still or ignoring you.

This is an example of how  you teach without talking, and it shouldn’t stop once your child starts talking!

Parents we have served tell us that before they met us, they were doing a lot of talking without teaching. Do you find yourself saying, “We’ve talked about this. How many times to do I have to tell you…?” or “How many times do I need to say your name before you will finally listen?” We want to reassure you that you do not need to endure this frustration! You ARE teaching a whole lot while you are talking, but it likely is not the behaviors you are intending your child to learn. They are more likely learning how to negotiate, (as you are modeling it for them!), or how to delay things they’d rather not do because while you are talking, they still aren’t doing what you told them to do anyway! 

Rather than using your words to convince your child all of the reasons why they need to do what you have instructed, or continuing to tell them numerous times to do the same thing, we zip our lips and start to silently guide the child to complete the task after the first instruction. Maybe you told your child to clean up, but s/he kept playing with the toys. At this point, do not give the instruction again, and instead start to guide them to clean the toys up. This will teach your child that “When I’m told to clean up, it means that what I should do is stop playing with these current toys, and put the toys away where they need to go.”

What about safety concerns? What if your child is running out into a busy street or going to reach for the hot pan of macaroni and cheese? We suggest preserving “No!”, “Don’t…”, and “Stop…” for these safety situations, when they will likely be paired with your physical guidance of stopping your child from running into the street and either blocking your child’s hands from the hot pan or moving the hot pan out of your child’s reach.

You will likely then ensure that the next few instances you are walking near a busy street that you are near your child and possibly holding your child’s hand, until enough time has gone by that s/he prove to you, with his/her behavior, that s/he can be trusted.

Next time you know your child has a difficult time cleaning up, walking safely in public, or completing an instruction, think to yourself “How can I teach this without talking BEFORE my child chooses not to listen?” And eventually, over time, your child’s behavior should prove to you that s/he can!

We specialize in teaching without talking! Parents we’ve served tell us it is hard to stop talking, and our coaching while they were NOT talking is what helped them to learn how to use our evidence-based strategies! Schedule your introductory assessment phone consultation today to discuss how we can serve your family!

My best,

Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA
Founder/CEO, Behave Your Best, LLC

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.