13 Things to Unteach Your Kids – Dr Rosina McAlpine

Any parent who has accidentally sworn in front of their child and then heard it come back at them wishes they could “unteach” their child the expletive. When you reflect upon some of the many things you’ve taught your kids consciously or unknowingly – how many do you wish you could unteach?

It is important to recognise that sometimes we might inadvertently teach our children things we don’t really want them to learn, and then we need to “unteach” them. Here are 13 things you may wish to consider unteaching your children:

1. Swear Words 

It’s hard to unteach a swear word after your child has learned it, so the best way to move forward is to explain that it is not a nice word to use and mum or dad made a mistake when they said it. By trying not to use it again and offering a substitute word to use if the swear word comes, you might succeed in helping your child to “unlearn” it (but there are no guarantees it won’t come out when grandma comes over!)

2. Beliefs About Money

Were you told emphatically that there was “no money” and that “money doesn’t grow on trees”? Have you passed those limiting beliefs on to your children? Unteaching negative beliefs about money and instilling positive beliefs can make a positive difference in the way your children approach life and money.

3. Chores Aren’t Fun

Have you created a belief that “chores are no fun and simply have to be done?” Sure, that is one way to approach chores, but if you wanted to, you could unteach this by explaining to the kids that there’s a new rule in the house –that chores ARE fun. You can put on music and be together to get each job done in a creative, fun and cooperative way.

4. Negative Attitude

Do you and/or the kids start the day with a negative attitude? If you say things like “I feel so tired”, “I’ve got so much on”, just remember that kids are always listening. If you want to unteach a negative attitude, start the day with a “good morning ritual”, like setting positive goals for the day.

5. Technology Obsession

From toddler to teenager, taking the screen away can result in a total meltdown. It’s hard to unteach an obsession with technology … as adults we know that ourselves! Unteach technology cravings by finding activities to do together that are screen free.

6. Kitchens are Not for Kids

Often we send kids out of the kitchen as it is easier, quicker and safer because parents can be time poor. However, once we’ve taught our kids not to help – it’s hard to get them back when we’d love the help. So unteach your children that kitchens are not for kids and get them involved with all aspects from menu planning to preparing and cleaning up. You’ll get the help you need and they’ll have skills for life – Win-Win!

7. Just Do as Your Told

“Respect your elders” “I’m the adult and you simply need to listen and do as you’re told” are words children often hear. Teaching kids to simply do as they are told may seem like a great thing, however sometimes a more beneficial approach is teaching your kids to consider why they’re being asked to do something. By getting children to follow their inner compass, it can help children make good choices and be safe.

8. Gender Stereotypes

The world is filled with ways that children can learn unhelpful gender stereotypes. When parents become aware of their child’s unrealistic stereotypes like “mums should stay home while dads should work”, “football isn’t for girls, it’s a boy’s sport”, they can unteach these stereotypes by challenging them and offering a different point of view to support equality for all.

9. Being a Praise-Junky

It is not uncommon to hear parents praise their children TOO much. Kids can become reliant on praise from others for their self-worth. You can help your child unlearn the need for external recognition and praise to feel worthy and lovable by helping them to be more internally referenced, rather than needing external praise. For example, instead of offering praise, ask your children to reflect on whether they did their best, if they are happy with their work.

10. Junk Food is a Treat

When we call junk food a “treat” we create conflict. For example, when we eat something we call “junk food”, it’s going in our body and our mind thinks “this junk food is bad for me!” Then if parents deny their children a sugary, fatty, processed food they call a “treat” – children feel like they’re missing out when parents just want them to stay healthy. Unteach equating junk food with a treat.


11. Practice Makes Perfect

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ and we know that it’s virtually unattainable. It’s too stressful to strive for perfection all of the time and can result in challenging perfectionist tendencies, so try unteaching this phrase. Replace it with “practice makes personal bests”. The more we practice the better our personal bests get.

12. Saying No

Does your toddler or teenager say a resounding “NO!” to everything? Many parents find this really frustrating. So perhaps you could start by considering how many times a day you say “no” to your child. When your child hears lots and lots of no’s you can bet you’ll get lots of no’s back. Instead, start saying more yes’s and you might find you’ll get more yes’s back. Here’s a short video on how you can do that without giving in to every request! Check it out in the online version of this edition at www.pakmag.com.au.

13. Always Getting What They Want

Often, it’s easier to let your child get what they want after they whine incessantly, as it will give you a break from listening to it. However, this can teach them that whining works, so there needs to be a balance between “No” and giving in. Otherwise, your child will likely realise that this works, and then continue to do it. There are many things that parents do out of the goodness of their hearts or to reduce their stress when dealing with their children. These don’t always have the best effects on a child’s development however, and it is better to nip the bad habits in the bud while they’re still young. Remember to seek help and support when you feel overwhelmed with juggling the struggles of parenting.


About the Author

Dr Rosina McAlpine is the CEO and creator of the Win Win Parenting program. Win Win Parenting practical and fun programs are delivered across a variety of organisations including early learning, school, corporate and government organisations in Australia, New Zealand and The United States. Dr Rosina is an internationally recognised awardwinning researcher and educator. Read more of her work on our website here