18 Ways To Encourage Better Behavior

The ultimate goal of parental guidance is to support and aid children in reaching their full physical and emotional potentials human beings so that they have the best opportunity to be happy and successful in their own lives.

This is a huge responsibility. How you guide and communicate with your children when they are young has unimaginable implications not only for you and for your children, but for your grand children and for society as a whole.

Children who are disciplined with love, empathy, understanding and reason are far more likely and able to function within a community as older children (at school/socially) and as adults (in the home, work place and wider community).

Spending a little time now, thinking about and planning how to best guide and support your children is not only essential to their success, but ultimately spending the time and effort to put in discipline methods everyone understands before discipline is a relevant issue will make parenting easier for you in the long term.

18 Ways To Encourage Better Behavior In Your Child

1) Listen. Work out why. Misbehavior in children is almost always an attempt to communicate when all else has failed.  If you can find the cause of the bad behavior  you can change it at source. The reasons will be different in every case and your ability to identify them depends somewhat on the situation, your child’s age and ability, but mostly on how well you know your child. For example, a toddler may refuse to wear a particular pair of pajamas because they are uncomfortable for some reason, however, a toddler does not have the language capacity to express this, and so may cry, shout, stomp take of the PJ’s and refuse to wear them. Different PJs will solve this. An older child may start to refuse to go to school because there are problems there, such a bullying or difficulty understanding lessons. Talking gently to your child,and to the school/other parents if necessary  might help to solve this problem. Listening to your child and making extra effort to communicate effectively goes a long way to solving most behavioral problems.

2) Keep your child occupied. Boredom breeds discontent, and discontent leads to children that are difficult to manage. If you find engaging and fun activities for your children to do throughout the day, they will be busy and more likely to behave well. Children who are stuck indoors with nothing but the TV for hours on end, are likely to be tired, grumpy, argumentative or hyperactive, just as any adult in such a situation would become. Children have short attention spans and need to be engaged and challenged by their care-givers. Too much time in front of a screen has negative effects on behavior in children. Be creative – it doesn’t have to be expensive; a treasure hunt with clues hidden around the house and a chocolate bar at the end, an arts/crafts day, a music day where the children can bang pots and pans or water filled milk bottles (ear plugs advised!) lego are just as good as an expensive day out.  Use services available to you – books from the library, online films, educational games on cbeebies/CBBC, local fun days/events.

3) Understand the importance of a good, balance diet. Sweets, chocolate and fast food are OK as an occasional treat, but a diet high in sugar  fat and e-numbers is not only physically damaging to children, but can have a drastic effect on their behavior, development and concentration span. Make sure your child eats fresh fruit, vegetables  oily fish and lean white meat. Children should also have a vitamin supplement (families on low incomes can get these free from the NHS)

4)Be a good role model. What you are will leave a far deeper impression on your children than what you say. If you are honest, kind, caring and fair, your children are likely to be too. Show them how you would like them to live by living it yourself. If you use a lot of swear words, you cannot expect your children not to pick up on this and use it themselves. Children model their behavior on the adults around them. If you don’t empathize and are not kind when your child hurts himself or looses a football game, how do you expect him to learn how to empathize and be kind himself? Show him.

5) Praise your child’s good behavior as much and as often as you can. It is classic Pavlov’s Dog psychology – if you reward the good behavior it is likely to increase, if you ignore or punish the bad behavior it is likely to decrease. This is how all young animals begin to learn, including humans. Your children ultimately seek your positive attention, but if it is not forthcoming, they will accept your negative attention rather than nothing. If you only respond to them when they are misbehaving, they will do it more because it is the only way to get the attention they crave. So give them limitless praise, attention and approval when they are behaving as you would like them to.

6)If you think your child is unusually difficult to handle, there may be an underlying medical or developmental issue. It could be something as simple as a hearing or visual problem, or something more complicated like Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism or another problem. Seek medical advice and speak to your child’s school/nursery to see what can be done to understand and support your child better.

7) Ultimately as parents, certainly when they are young, we must take responsibility for the behavior of our children. For the first most developmentally important years of their lives, all they know is what we teach them – their world view is an extension of our own. Children do not know how to resolve conflict or be considerate unless we as parents teach them. If children have behavioral problems from a young age and there is no physiological cause, parents must take a difficult look at their situation and how this might be influencing the behavior of their children, so that they can make changes where needed to give children the best chance of being happy and fulfilling their potential.

8) All children must have a safe, secure home environment where they can be free to express themselves without fear or threat of violence, harm or aggression  Children who do not have this sound basis of care cannot develop in a healthy way and this has a dramatic effect on behavior, not least because this may be a child’s only way of expressing their suffering.

9)Communicate. Your expectations of your child must be clear. It is not enough to tell your child to ‘be a’good boy at the cinema’; you must tell him what this means (eg to sit quietly and watch the film) What behavior is unacceptable? (eg No running no screaming, no hitting, fighting etc). What will happen if he does these unacceptable things (we’ll have to leave the cinema) What happens if he is ‘good’and sits quietly to watch the film (we’ll all have fun and go to the cinema again next month). Explain to your child clearly and in a language that he understands why this behavior is important (we can’t scream at the cinema because we don’t want to spoil the film for others. We don’t hit people because we don’t want to hurt them. How would the child feel if he had his film spoiled by others/was hit?). It is important not just to get children to behave, but to teach them the basic values that underlie the behavior you are trying to re-enforce, for example, consideration, kindness,  empathy etc. Explain gently and steadily but firmly, and make eye-contact with your child.

10) However you discipline your children, always be consistent. If you give 1 warning and then issue the punishment, you must always follow this pattern. You cannot then punish your child without giving a warning;this will confuse the child who is then likely to misbehave more out of sheer frustration. If he may or may not get a warning, he doesn’t know where he stands and what the ‘rules’ are, and therefore does not get the connection between his behavior and the consequences. Consistency is key to learning. The punishment must be consistent too, for example, 3 mins on the ‘naughty step’ for a 3 year old child. Tell all care-givers involved how your child is expected to behave, how you discipline them (exactly – how many warnings? how are these given? What is acceptable punishment for the caregiver to employ, and what is not?) and ask them to follow the rules you have been putting in place. If you follow a discipline procedure and have warned your child about a consequence to their action, you must always, always follow through. Children must know where they stand, where the boundaries are and that you mean what you say. They can only know this if you show it through action. this means always following through with discipline  even when you are stressed, tired, hungry and struggling. If you don’t follow through with a consequence you make your own life more difficult because you teach your child that you don’t mean what you say, there is no constancy and this confusion means children are unlikely to behave better.

11) Once you have disciplined your children, let that be the end of it. Do not keep reminding them of their short-comings or dwell on the difficult behavior, once a discipline procedure has taken place and a child has apologized  hug them, tell them you love them and move on to a new activity.

12)Be careful with your language. Instead of telling your child he is ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’, address the behavior by saying something like ‘it wasn’t a good choice to bite your sister. It wasn’t kind and it hurt her’ . Criticize the behavior, not the child.

13) Make sure that your expectations for your child’s behavior is reasonable. A 3 year old child cannot be expected to sit quietly for long periods of time, or not to make a mess or wet the bed, this is not bad behavior, it is not reasonable to expect a child of that age to be able to do these things.

14) Involve your children in the running of the house. This not only teaches them important life skills, but also helps to build their self esteem by making them feel useful and capable. Get them to help make shopping lists, lay the table, make their beds etc. Thank them for the contribution they make to the running of the house.

15) Focus on the positives. Using a reward chart of some kind is a great way to encourage good behavior in children, because it is visual and they can literally witness their progress over time. It helps them feel good and to focus on increasing good behavior over a period of time. It doesn’t have to be expensive  a piece of paper with days of the week written out with spaces to put a ‘reward’ tick/sticker will do. A cork pin board with drawn on spaces for reward symbols, like a pack of playing cards, or a tub to fill with a pre-determined number of ping-pong balls, is better. Get the child involved – they can help to decorate the chart/board/box. Tell them that when the board/box is filled with a certain number of reward symbols, they will get a ‘special treat’ (maybe a trip to a favorite place or a new toy). Every time the child makes good choices and behaves well, give them a reward symbol (a card/tick/ball) and put it on their chart. When the agreed number (suggest 15?) is reached, they can have the treat. This is effective because it motivates children and helps them to understand and monitor their own progress over time  in a visual way.

16) Structure and routine is important to children. Try to put certain things in place that will help your child get a footing and feel safe in the world. A roast dinner on Sunday, a trip to the park after school on Wednesday  anything that is regular will help children to feel secure and facilitate better behavior.  Be aware that any disruption to routine may cause your child to ‘act out’ (another attempt to communicate and express himself). Sleep is a very important part of  a childs daily routine; try to keep this as regular as possible and encourage proper rest. Maybe a warm bath, a hot chocolate and story, toilet/teeth/wash and bed at a regular time is a relaxing end to a hard day for kids.

17) Physical exercise is necessary for all children. It helps to burn off energy and releases anti-stress hormones. It doesn’t matter what it is, a bike ride, a dance around the sitting room, a walk, roller-blading, swimming, a game of rounders. Encouraging physical activity in children helps to regulate their behavior.

18) Be aware that some behavioral difficulties can be an attempt to communicate things the child feels unable to talk about, like child abuse. You can find more information here.

Further Advice And Information

  • NSPCC – Encouraging Better Behavior
  • Behavioral Child Blog – Tips, help and advice for tackling difficult behavior
  • Young Minds  Parents’ Helpline offers free confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behavior or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25. Call: 0808 802 5544

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