Teaching Technique: Parents Are The Ultimate Teachers

26 April 2012

Tantrum -characterIn the check-out queue at the supermarket the other day, I was standing behind a young man who had a son. To look at this young father, one could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps he may have been a little too young to have a son of around 3-4 years of age, but there he was with his son. And then an all too common scenario started to unfold. The boy was pointing to a bar of chocolate on display at the checkout that he wanted, and the father said no. Up until then, I had only been half-observing him, but as the child began to cry in an attempt to manipulate his father into giving in, I wondered how the father would handle this situation. Would he ignore the child's crying? (Definitely not my favourite tactic, because, it never works). Would he assert himself by shouting at the child or perhaps even using intimidating body-language, or worse still, smacking the child? (All not good choices). But to my delight, he did something all too rare. He did exactly what I would have done.

In what I would call a "teaching voice" (firm, assertive, definite, but neutral, not in any way threatening) he said, "Johnny… has crying like this ever worked for you before?" Somewhat startled by the father's firm tone which succeeded in interrupting the child's behaviour pattern, the child's eyes widened as he looked up at his father, and having thought about the question for a moment, he shook his head in response. Unrelenting, the father continued… "Is there any reason to think it might work on this occasion?" Again the wide-eyed child shook his head. "So kindly stop… Now come on" said the father changing his tone back to his normal voice as the check-out queue moved forward, "it's our turn now". And hey presto, problem solved.

Often when I'm out and about, I observe parents who struggle in these situations, which is why, on this occasion it was a real delight to see a highly skilled parent do such a wonderful job for his child. Who knows… perhaps he may have been a teacher, because a good teacher will often use similar techniques.

When I'm training teachers, one of the techniques I teach is that you need to have three main contrasting tones of voice (and this applies to parents too): 1. your normal speaking voice; 2. yourteaching (assertive) voice; and 3. your excited (praising) voice.

One of the most common mistakes inexperienced teachers make, and for that matter, parents too, is not changing their tone of voice when attempting to interrupt a child's behaviour pattern. Without expressing anger, there needs to be enough contrast between your normal tone of voice and what I call your "teaching" (assertive) voice that the difference in tone will register with the child. Reprimanding a child in your normal speaking voice will fail 99% of the time.


But then there's the question of what to say… and one of my favourite techniques is to use the interrogative (questioning) approach, which I've seen many skilled school teachers use to great effect, and which this young father used very successfully on this occasion. The idea is to ask 2-3 questions in a firm tone that compel the child to think about their behaviour, and that will lead them to express through their answers that they understand what was wrong with their behaviour and how it can be improved.

The great thing about this technique (combined with the right tone of voice) is that it encourages the child to develop maturity. You, as the teacher or parent, have an opportunity to empower the child to develop and grow through self-assessment of their behaviour. Parents are the ultimate teachers, and teaching is ultimately all about empowerment.


Don't worry if the first time you try these techniques (voice + questioning) they don't work out exactly as you had hoped. There is no such thing as the perfect teacher or the perfect parent. We never stop learning. But each time you try these techniques, ask yourself afterwards, what worked well and what could I do better or differently next time. And gradually, bit by bit, you will become the best teacher your child will ever know.


Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment.


Til next time,


Brendan Hogan

Musiah Inventor



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Although not a parent this is excellent advice in parent/teacher/child behavior, I admire those who observe others and a great deal of learning to be had. Thank you

Tom Sanderson

Thanks Tom!

Brendan Hogan

My mom often used that approach on me, and look what it have done : I, being an Asperger-gifted girl, have managed to overwrite my social flaw to points other autists might never reach! Thanks to this technique, I'm almost normal, with the benefits of Asperger Syndrome! :D

Ember Thompson

Hi Ember, Thanks for commenting. It's great to hear you had such a wonderful mother, and lovely to see daughter who appreciates her mum. A big thumbs up to both of you!

Brendan Hogan

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