Positive Parenting Part 2: When Children Misbehave

| Posted On Apr 24, 2014 | By:

positive parentingLast week, I published a blog about the general concepts of positive parenting that you should try to practice each and every day.  Raising children, however, is a long journey, and there are inevitable bumps and turns and breakdowns along the road.  Sometimes, you have to correct your child’s behavior to help them understand that the behavior is not acceptable and learn that there are consequences to misbehaving.

Like almost everything with a child, however, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, no single way to correct all the different ways your child may misbehave.

Below, I’ve listed some techniques I recommend to families to try in certain types of situations or with certain behaviors – you may want to consider trying them, too!

Time-Outs.  Time-outs are very effective but they cannot be enacted until your child is at least 15 months old, an age when he or she can understand what it means.  They should also be used for specific behaviors and should not be used to correct more than 1 or 2 actions at a time.  Many parents ask how long to set a time-out session, and our rule of thumb is one minute for every year of age.

There are two types of time-outs:

  1. The “Classic” Time-out.  This is where a specific location has been designated and a child goes there for that set period.  I recommend designating a chair – every room has one, and if you use your child’s bed, for example, it can impact sleep later on.  You may need to hold your child in place for that time, but once the time is up, just let the child leave.  Only when things have calmed down should you discuss the behavior that led to the time-out and reinforce the rules that have been set.
  2. The “Social” Time-out.  Particularly useful with biting or hitting behaviors, a social time-out is when you say, “I can’t be with you for X minutes now because I have to tend to your sister because you bit/hit her.”  And then you ignore your child for the time period.  It therefore does not involve a physical location or placement for your child, but it is instead a social “snub” while you care for your other child.  Just like the classic time-out, discuss the behavior at a future time detached from the moment.

Define the location or parameters of misbehavior.  This encompasses a number of techniques to narrow where and in what circumstances a behavior is acceptable.  If a child is misbehaving, physically remove him or her from the area.  If a child refuses to complete a job (e.g., cleaning his room) delay a privilege like TV watching until the job is done.  And if your child is about to pick his nose, restrict the location of that behavior to a private setting like his bedroom or the bathroom and do not allow it in shared spaces.

Find other outlets or ways to diffuse negative feelings or behaviors.  If your child is angry, have her sit down and write a letter or draw a picture to express how she feels.  If your child is fighting with another child over a particular toy, introduce a second toy to give him something else to play with.  Try playing “beat the clock” as a way to make an undesirable task into a game (“let’s see how many books you can pick up in two minutes!”) or even offer to do it together.

Eliminate arguments and discord by giving choices – or taking them away.  If your son is adamant to pick out his clothes, but you cannot bear the navy blue pants with the black shirt, narrow the choices he can choose from (but don’t offer more than 2 choices.)  If you are constantly asking your daughter not to open and shut the cabinet door, put a child lock on it and eliminate the conflict.

Prepare your child for transitions.  Children need to be eased into transitions from one activity to another, so it’s a good idea to let them know when one is coming.  If you are reading your daughter a bedtime story, for example, it’s far more effective to say, “Okay, two more pages, then lights out!” than it is to stop “cold turkey.”  Counting is also good: “I’ll count to ten, then we’re walking out the door.”

Keep it light and keep the two of you together.  Humor can be a very powerful tool, so diffuse situations with laughter or be playful with your child.  It can also be positive when you work together with your child, not apart, so be willing to make small concessions, do it together, or play “let’s make a deal” and negotiate a simple solution (although that negotiation needs to be controlled – if it goes on for 10 minutes, it’s no longer simple and it’s no longer a negotiation!)

Natural and Logical Consequences.  Children need to understand that there are consequences to their behavior, and the more closely those consequences can be linked to the action, the better the child can learn from the experience.  An example of a natural consequence is if you ask your son to put a wet bathing suit and towel into the hamper and he instead leaves it on the floor, the next day he should have to wear a wet bathing suit. A logical consequence is if your daughter writes on the wall with her crayon, you take away her crayons for two days.

Give yourself a time-out!  Sometimes it’s best for you to walk out of the room for 5 minutes and give yourself a chance to breathe and take a moment so that you are more refreshed and able to carry on.

This last technique leads to a final piece of advice, that for parents and caregivers. The reality is that parenting is very, very demanding and lots of hard work.  You need to take care of yourself just as you take care of your children. I would offer the following for you to consider for yourself:

  1. Find good play groups and dates for your children – your children can engage with other children, you can engage with other adults, and perhaps you can alternate with other adults over who stays to supervise and who can take a break for a bit
  2. Get plenty of sleep!  Don’t let yourself become sleep-deprived
  3. Remember: it’s okay for your child to cry at times
  4. Find time for yourself – to exercise, to socialize (adults only) or to have a date with your spouse


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