“Caught & Taught Behavior” by QACP Parent Educator, Kate Calhoun


‘TAUGHT’ Behavior – Creating Rules That Stick

We can teach many things to children when we use simple, clear words to explain and enforce rules and guidelines.  With young children it’s best to choose only a few words to tell about the rules. Their attention span is short and they will not listen for long. Make every word count.

Put the verbs, the action words first in your request or direction. Say: ‘Keep the sand in the sensory table’, rather than ‘Don’t throw the sand!’    Say: ‘Touch the kitty gently’, rather than ‘Stop that! You’re hurting the kitty!’    Say: ‘Draw on the paper’, rather than ‘You’re getting crayon marks all over the table!’

It’s best when your words and actions are congruent and give the same message.


‘CAUGHT’ Behavior – Kids Learn Behavior by Watching You

We are constantly teaching our children how to behave, even when we’re not actively teaching with our words. Children’s brains are designed to learn by watching. They learn new behaviors by continually observing their parents and others in the environment around them.

What are you teaching your children when they see your everyday behavior?

  • Do you smile or laugh a lot?
  • Are you patient or impatient, soft-spoken or loud?
  • Do you exercise, eat healthy, take some time for yourself?
  • Do you make eye contact when you talk?
  • Do you and your spouse express affection, have fun, argue, or problem-solve together?
  • Can you calm yourself down when emotions run strong?
  • Are you consistently distracted by your phone and other devices?
  • Do you have meaningful relationships with family and friends?

Become aware of which behaviors you feel proud to pass on to your child. Decide which behaviors you’d prefer to change or eliminate.

Remember that ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. Make sure that the actions your child observes you doing are the behaviors you intend to teach.

Author Kate Calhoun is a Parent Educator for Queen Anne Cooperative Preschool (QACP). She regularly works with co-op families via her teaching assignments through both Edmonds Community College and Seattle Central Community College. This article was a part of Kate’s Winter 2017 educational series. The material she references is based on John Medina’s presentation for educators in Everett, WA (January 8, 2011) and in his book entitled: Brain Rules for Baby – How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to FivePear Press  2010.

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