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Positive Parenting: Overteaching

Overteaching is a term in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) that sounds like you are going to "drill for skill," like practicing Spelling words. However, overteaching is a great way to correct a behavior that needs to end.

For instance, say your child just poured out their crackers on the floor and it was no accident. Maybe they were even staring you down a bit and challenging you to stop them. This is a great time to employ overteaching.

You would look at your child and say, "Time to clean up." Not only would you have your child clean up the mess they just made, you would also have them clean up something else nearby. In the picture above, you might want to pick up the toys or push the chair back to its place. The idea is not only to take care of the mess the child created, but another one, as well.

It can be tempting to grumble and gripe at your child during this process. However, it is best to say nothing and just have them clean up. Also, because this is a corrective measure, do not give positive praise when the child finishes the task. Saying, "Good job cleaning up," risks reinforcing the behavior of making a mess. Instead, choose an easy, favorite thing to do and give that positive praise for that instead. If your child likes to clap, say, "Clap hands!" Then, praise your child for following that instruction, reinforcing an acceptable behavior.

Overteaching works really well when a child is purposely doing something wrong or engaging in a behavior they need to stop. Perhaps you find your child playing with water in the bathroom and now the counter is wet. Have the child clean the counter and maybe wipe the floor. With an older or higher functioning child, perhaps add emptying the trash can. Add at least one or two more things to fix without adding too much to the list.

If your younger child does not want to comply, you may have to use hand over hand prompting, which means you'll be doing as much work as your kid. However, they will learn that the particular behavior, whether it is making a mess or throwing toys, is not worth the trouble it causes them.

(Image by Flickr User Abigail Batchelder)