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How to get children to control their behavior

Three ways to help your child to behave well.

GreatSchools Blog

By GreatSchools Staff

Getting kids to behave is one of the most important, confusing, and difficult jobs parents have. And as kids are acting out, remember that testing limits is their job.
It’s not always easy, but there are a few simple ways to get your child to behave without stress. You can start by remembering that young children respond best to positive messages. Instead of “Don’t run,” try “Please walk.” It also helps if you try your best to respond in the same way each time. Yelling at children one day about their difficult behavior and then bribing them to stop the next is confusing for kids, and won’t get you’re the good behavior you want.
Here, below, are a three ways to get your child to behave.

 

1. Bribing

The problem: You’re in the grocery store, hoping to get through the checkout line without a scene. But then, one child starts begging for a candy bar. The other wails that she hates! hates! hates! the icky, healthy cereal you bought. To quiet them down, you buy them each a candy bar. Ah, no more whining children. Until next time.
Sure, bribes are quick and easy, and they often do the trick to stop a major scene. But the peace you buy with that candy bar won’t last long — nothing but a short-term solution. In the long run, bribes teach your kids that they can misbehave and get rewarded for it.

Try this instead: On the way to the store, remind your children why you’re going: To buy only the things on your shopping list. Once there, give children an assignment: helping you find items and checking them off the list (a bonus: This teaches planning and strengthens reading and writing skills). At the store, if they say they are hungry and start yelling for that candy bar, say you’ll be happy to buy them a banana or apple.When they've behaved like angels for the entire shopping trip, remember to praise them. “I really liked how much you helped in the store!” Often, this kind of praise is all a child needs to behave well the next time. (It's cheaper and healthier than a candy bar!) If you want to give them more than praise, consider something that isn’t a toy or treat. A trip to the playground or an extra story at bedtime sends them the message that behaving well has its own rewards.

 

2. Yelling

The problem: Have you ever screamed at your child, “Just be quiet!”? Seems pretty silly to be yelling about being quiet, right? When kids push our buttons — something many kindergartners know how to do well — it can be difficult for even the most patient parent to stay calm. But in the end, yelling usually doesn’t work. Kids don’t hear the words you’re saying. They just hear the anger. And worse, after all that yelling, they rarely change how they behave (and you feel like a monster after seeing the frightened look on your child’s face).

Try this instead: If you get so mad you feel like yelling, try your best to walk away. Because this can be easier said than done, it helps to have a “stop yourself” word (“stop” works) so you don’t start yelling without thinking. Or try counting to 10 before yelling. If you can get to 10, chances are by then you won’t need to yell. It also helps to leave the room for a minute to cool down. When you return, calmly tell your child why you are angry: “I asked you to pick up your toys before you could go out to play.” Then tell him what you want him to do: “Pick up your toys now. Then you may go outside.”


3. Not following through

The problem: “If you don’t turn off the TV right now, no TV for the rest of the week. I mean it!” Really? We often make threats we don’t — or can’t — follow through on. Our kids know this. As a result, they don't take the promised punishment seriously.

Try this instead: Do your best to think about the consequence of your child's misbehavior before you announce it. And make sure it's one you can live with. (Do you really want the whole family to skip the Fourth of July picnic?) Once you start following through, your kid will know you mean business. And remember: Keep it short and sweet. “If you eat your dinner, you’ll get dessert. If you don’t, no dessert.” Simple and sweet.

 

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/10/2012:
"HAHAHA yea, if I get so upset with my kids I have to yell, if I walk away I won't have a house left. If I count to ten they will have asked me the same question (which I have already answered) twenty times!! I agree with the rest of the article. And you shouldn't yell at your kids......too much. Go straight for spanking.....haha just kidding. My dad use to make me pull weeds. That was torture. Good punishment though. "
05/29/2012:
"Send copy to parents of all Students! "
05/3/2012:
"Ok my son is 10 and his mother and I are not together. My son visit me on the weekends. My son fights in school We tell him to not fight and to tell the teacher if someone is messing him, he will do for a while but starts right back fight he does not tell the truth. We ask him why he does this and why he does that and his answer he is , he dont know. What can we do to so son can be a better person. the school is thinking about kicking him out. "
03/26/2012:
"wowww... this article really helps all this three steps are sure that i was doin my parenting wrong... thankz for this 3 helful steps i will try them today... "
01/11/2012:
"totally agree! My kindergartener is getting 100's in all of his subjects, but is getting into mischief with his behavior. He keeps getting into trouble for talking to other kids, talking out of turn, and not keeping his hands to himself. I've taken away pretty much all of his privilges and done all kinds of time outs. What should I do??? Any ideas? you can email me. "
12/13/2011:
"This information really helped me as right now I have a 7yr old, 3yr old and a new born and all of the help tips hit the nail right no the head especially the grocery store situation. Thanks and I think this site is extremely helpful to young parents needing to get it right the first time around. "
04/26/2011:
"Yelling about being quiet is not ilogical as the article says. You know why!. Yelling without loosing control of yourself seems good when a bad course of behaviour is progressing and should be stopped."
04/25/2011:
"I have tried all these tactic and none work for me. Because my kids know excactly what they are doing. Its like they are programed to behave with me. Because when they are with others they do just fine."
03/28/2011:
"BE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN. So many parents are not, then blame the children for not doing well. Also, set a bedtime and stick to it. Children are not getting the rest they neet to achieve well in school, they are on their parents' schedule and whatever benefits the parents. Think about your child first!!!! Wait for the weekend to stay out all night. When a child is not doing well in school, IT'S THE PARENT...NOT THE CHILD. GET INVOLVED PARENTS! A Grandparent"
03/9/2011:
"Lol. My god who wrote this? Dr. Spock from his unicorn farm or over educated people with no children? 1.Bribing Your synopsis is wrong as all you do is replace one bribe with another, to wit: At the store, if they say they are hungry and start yelling for that candy bar, say you’ll be happy to buy them a banana or apple. When they've behaved like angels for the entire shopping trip, remember to praise them. Is that not exchanging one bribe for another? Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient. Learn the word NO! Then stick with it. 2.Yelling I agree with most of this. However yelling has it's time and place. Yelling when a child is out of control can bring a child under control. This only works when you use it in rare instances. 3. Not following through. Im with you 100% on this fact. BE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN! That's the real secret. It never fails. Don't say 'no wii for you for 2 weeks' Two weeks for a child is 2yrs. Make it a day or 2 at first and stick with it. Don't EVER cave and you will do fine."
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