Opting out (Escape from Demands)

What happens to our children when we ask them to do things we have not prepared them to do?

When children are asked to do something they do not have the requisite skills to do, most will respond by opting out. This opting out reaction looks different based on an individual’s maturity level and resourcefulness. A teenager who experiences difficulties with math may opt out of participating in a math lesson by instigating fights with their classmates. Getting kicked out of class works because it alleviates the embarrassment they may feel, when being asked to do something they cannot do, in front of individuals they’d like to empress. Opting out behavior for some students may also include hitting, throwing things, or having a tantrum.

It’s important to note that opting out is a learned behavior that will repeat itself when it works! Before my toddler felt comfortable with putting on her own shoes, she opted out by whining and dropping to the floor when it was time to go somewhere. This behavior decreased when we taught her how to put on her shoes, and ensured she experienced going somewhere nice by independently getting ready to go.  Children will select to opt out when alleviating the challenge becomes more rewarding than working through it.

Here are some quick tips to cope with the challenges of opting out:

  • Remove the value of opting out or escaping challenges by:
    • Asking your child to do things that fall within their current ability level.
    • Providing support when asking them to do something that requires developing skills.
      • This is an excellent place to give a good model or example of exactly what you want them to do. Some children may enjoy role playing. Allowing the child to “play†the parent role will also reveal how they are experiencing your instructions. (You may need to make adjustments if the role-played parent comes across loud and bossy!)
    • Using the Direct Instruction (I do – we do – you do) teaching strategy to support your child with acquiring new skills
  • Don’t be the parent that signals to the child, “if you throw a big enough tantrum, I will give you what you want.†Instead, be the parent that signals to the child, “we will work through this together.â€
  • Celebrate all victories, large or small!

I believe opting out or escaping challenges can lead to low expectations, which ultimately leads to mediocrity. As parents, we are responsible for ensuring our children learn and grow from the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives. Please, stay encouraged and know that you are your child’s first teacher. Keep up the good work!

Written February 2015 – Appeared in Seek Magazine (http://seekmagazine.org/opting-out-escape-from-demands/)

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