How to get children to control their behavior

Three ways to help your child to behave well.

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.