Confessions of a former Teacher:  Opting Out (Escape from Demands)

opting out

How does your child respond when you ask them to do something?  In this article, Behavior Analyst and Mom, Natasha Beene shares how to increase learning by working through challenges.

By Natasha Beene

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 impress. 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 then 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.”
  • 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!

*photo by Niklas Hellerstedt (CC BY 2.0)

11 Responses to Confessions of a former Teacher:  Opting Out (Escape from Demands)

  1. Jeanette says:

    Great article with great tips expressed in a reflective, positive, instructional tone – the same emotion we wish to demonstrate with our children!

  2. Jeanette Beene says:

    A great article with great tips expressed in a reflective, positive, instructional tone – just the emotions we wish to demonstrate to our children!

  3. Danielle says:

    I really enjoyed your article, especially the quick tips section, it is real easy to get discouraged in the face of a tantrum and not realize that the behavior being displayed can be a product of “fear of the unknown” and not attitude problems. I think allowing your child to “play the parent” may be very interesting and also like looking in the mirror to see how you actually come off. I guess you will have to mentally prepare for that prior to instituting it. Great tips!!

  4. Danielle says:

    Also, the more I think about it, opting out doesn’t change with adults either. I see tantrums and negative attitudes in the work place all the time.

  5. Thomas says:

    A very thought provoking article. It is interesting that some of the behaviors of optioning out continue through adulthood. I think expectations such as societal and parents play into optioning out as well.

  6. Anita says:

    This article was very insightful, with great tips to help with opting out. With kids it seems that it is easier to opt out if you are having a challenge unless you know how to take the necessary steps to deal with the challenge. It is definitely a learned behavior that you wll have to teach early or they will continue to opt out as an adult.

  7. Oneal and Cassandra says:

    Yes, an interesting article with many positive and encouraging suggestions.
    Opting out has a way of showing up in both children and adults(silent treatment,refusing to comment, she always does…, why we have to follow her suggestions,if I was asked…I would do a better job!).And there are many other
    examples we witness daily.

  8. Angela Pennington says:

    Well said Natasha…short, sweet, and to the point! I especially like how the tips applies to all…from toddlers to teens. Great tips for new and veteran parents who sometimes forget these truths. Thanks for sharing

  9. Kevin D says:

    This was an awesome article. I am all about mentoring children and giving them tools and confidence to work through a problem or something they don’t know how to do. It really builds confidence in a child to face difficult and/or different challenges. This is critical as the arrive to adulthood not being afraid to find and serve our what they were purposed in life to do. This doesn’t eliminate fear or frustration but creates a tunnel for which that energy could be used to succeed. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  10. Ashley says:

    This article is enlightening. I see how “opting out” behavior if not addressed as a tot or even a teen manifests into the adult life. Analyzing even my own behavior I can see how this dilemma is present. With my job there is always something new and at times difficult to take care of and every so often I’m like, “Whatever.. Not fooling with it.” It doesn’t just stop with job relations, but personal relations as well. Again, this article was very enlightening and insightful. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Juanita Henry says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking. The suggestions and examples are somthing we can all relate to and know that if not followed we will raise adults that will want to optout rathet than face what they perceive as a difficult task.

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