Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Addressing Problem Behavior Effectively

Mother and child sitting at a table

"There is nothing more influential in a child's life than the moral power of a quiet example." -- William Bennett

When it comes to teaching children self-discipline, the example parents provide is a powerful tool. These tips w‚Äčill give you some good ideas to help you create or improve your parenting style.

Positive Discipline

Address the problem. Young children are usually more interested in what you are going to do about their behavior than what you are going to say about it.

  • Avoid making idle threats or giving too many warnings. Parents who constantly threaten children are actually helping them learn to limit-test. For instance, if you hear yourself always saying, "Don't let me tell you that again!" or "If I have to come up there you'll be sorry!" These threats actually let your children know that they have a couple of more times to keep doing the problem behavior before you really will address it. This doesn't mean you should pick on every single thing your child does wrong. You know your child's frequent or severe problem behavior. Correct these problems as soon as they start. If you address them immediately, you may be able to use minor correction, cueing or a small consequence rather than engaging in the knockdown, drag-out fights that often escalate after several warnings and ignored misbehavior.
  • Remember to pick your battles. Do you feel warn-out because you are always correcting your child? Not everything your child does needs to be a point of conflict. Learn to categorize your child's behavior. There are some behaviors we just won't tolerate from our children, while others just irritate us. Use redirection, positive encouragement or ignore those irritating but insignificant problem behaviors. With more significant problem behavior, correct your child every time the behavior occurs. Give a consequence that fits the misbehavior; teach your child what to do differently, and have him or her demonstrate the desired behavior several times.
  • Model self-control by staying calm. Children are not interested in everything we say as parents but they closely observe what we do. A good way to teach your child to stay calm when she is really upset is to do it yourself. Limit talking to your child when he is too emotional to listen. Once your child is calm, use a matter-of-fact tone and make your instructions short and to the point. Often parents think if they can't force their children to get under control they are letting them win. When it comes to an emotional child, it is not who wins or who loses but if there is a calm adult around when things are getting out-of-control.
  • Remember to follow through. Don't fall into the trap of whimping out on giving a negative consequence when a child has earned one. Some parents think just talking to their children will stop the problem. If it does, great: Use it. For most children, however, talk is cheap and often rewarding. Don't be afraid to give your child a reasonable consequence. They will still love you. Kids want and need to know where their boundaries are. Otherwise, they will just keep making the same mistakes.

    How do you stop whimping out when it comes to giving a consequence? First, avoid statements like these, "If you do that again, you will get a consequence," or "Do you want me to punish you?" Remove the "if" and the questions from your correction. Replace them with statements like, "Because you hit her, you earned time-out" or "Now, your punishment is no snack." Reasonable consequences are effective teaching tools that help children learn right from wrong.
  • Don't get sidetracked by the small stuff. Parents often get frustrated when they are trying to correct their child who is doing a lot of grumbling, mumbling and whining. Focus on correcting the original problem behavior and deal with the small irritations later. Use a broken record technique if your child purposely tries to get you off track with argumentative statements. Say to your child, "We are not talking about that now" or "The sooner you do what I've asked, the sooner you'll get back to what you want to do."

Did you know? Toddlers spend 12 to 17 percent of their waking hours simply staring. By age 3, they have cut their staring time by more than half.