Strategies for Dealing with Misbehavior

All kids misbehave from time to time. Parents need to know how to handle misbehavior WITHOUT harming their child. Frequent anger, excessive criticism, over-punishment and other harsh interventions are strategies that are likely to cause more misbehavior rather than less. Moreover, these strategies also cause various emotional difficulties in children and can, when intense enough, harm the parent-child relationship. Fortunately, parents can learn a set of tools that will help them correct their kids in positive ways. With these tolls, parents will find themselves taking firm but quiet control, finding ways to respectfully teach their kids right from wrong.

If your child ever misbehaves, consider the following tips:

Reasons for Misbehavior
Your child may misbehave for all kinds of reasons. Some misbehavior is actually accidental – like when a child just isn’t paying attention (i.e. when he runs around the house and breaks something). Or, he might be experimenting and testing the limits of what he can get away with. Maybe he seeks the intense attention his parents give to his negative behavior. Or maybe there’s a physiological reason for the misbehavior such as fatigue, hunger or illness – or a biologically based mental health condition like ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, etc. Your child (usually!) isn’t an evil person who consciously intends to make your life hard. There’s generally a reason for his or her misbehavior.

Attend to and Reinforce Desirable Behaviors
The CLeaR method is one super-charged way that you can reinforce positive behavior; it is described in full in Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s book, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Use of the CLeaR Method involves 3 steps: comment, label and (sometimes) reward. An example using the CLeaR Method would be this scenario of a child who has a bad habit of climbing on counters to help himself to cookies. One day, the child remembers to ASK for a cookie, to which the parent responds“You asked me for a cookie instead of trying to climb on the counter.” (Comment), “That’s very mature of you!” (Label), “Yes, go ahead and take a cookie.” (Reward). The CLeaR Method requires forethought and actual planning, but it is truly effective when used consistently and correctly. With this method, your child learns to associate appropriate behavior with positive feelings, causing him to become more likely to do the “right” thing in the future.

Reward charts can also be used to encourage desirable behaviors. These are more fun and more successful than using tools like criticism, correction and punishment to address the negative behavior. For instance, instead of yelling at a child for leaving his shoes in the hallway, you can put up a star chart in front of the shoe cupboard and ask the child to give himself a star whenever he puts his shoes away properly. When he accumulates a certain number of stars, he gets a small prize.

Even praise, smiles and other simple signs of pleasure applied to DESIRABLE behaviors are preferable to negative feedback for undesirable behaviors. Nonetheless, positive strategies alone do not always eradicate misbehavior. See below for how to use discipline constructively when necessary.

Follow the 80-20 Rule (90-10 for teens)
In the 80-20 rule, 80% of communications between parent and child must be positive, while only 20% can be negative. Negative communications include criticism of any kind, behavior tips, and rebuke. For teens the ratio is 90%-10% as teens become less tolerant of criticism. Too much negative interaction with your child can lead to rebelliousness and damage the parent-child relationship. The 80-20 rule can dramatically decrease misbehavior while it fosters cooperation. Learn more about The 80-20 Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

Get in the Habit of using Emotional Coaching
Emotional coaching can be a great tool to help reduce misbehavior. It involves naming a child’s feelings. When your child misbehaves you can begin your intervention by acknowledging the feelings prompting his behavior (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks.” or “I know you want to have a cookie right now.”). Then, offer your correction (i.e. “Throwing rocks is dangerous.” or “You can’t take cookies without asking permission.”) Make sure not to join the acknowledgment of the behavior with the reason why he can’t do it with the word “but” (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks but it’s dangerous.”). Using the word “but” is akin to saying, “I know you like this but I don’t care.” so try to avoid using it here. Emotional coaching makes the child feel understood and accepted, even when his behavior is unacceptable. As a result, the child is more likely to want to cooperate with the parents’ requests. This method can greatly reduce misbehavior and encourages compliance.

Avoid Bribes and use Grandma’s Rule
Instead of saying, “If you clean up your toys, you’ll get a treat” (which is a bribe), try saying, “After you’ve cleaned up your toys, you can have a piece of cake” (which is the structure used in Grandma’s Rule). The word “if” denotes the option of doing or not doing something, when in fact you don’t want to give your child that option. The words “after,” “as soon as,” or “when” indicate that the behavior will be accomplished – it’s only a matter of when. The reward will be forthcoming WHEN the behavior is done, not “if” it is done!

Use the 2X-Rule When You Need to Discipline
Sometimes it is necessary to use discipline to reduce negative behavior. The 2X Rule (as described in the book Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice) is a good rule to follow. When your child misbehaves (i.e. hits his sister) tell him that he should refrain from the improper behavior, tell him why he should refrain and tell him what he should do instead of that behavior. That is called Step One. If the child does the misbehavior again, you’ll be on Step Two of the 2X-Rule. Here, you’ll repeat Step One and then warn him that if repeats that behavior again he will receive a negative consequence. You could say something like, “The next time you hit your sister, you will lose your computer privileges for the rest of the day.” Children are more likely to think about what they’re doing before they do it when faced with a consequence. Make sure to follow up with whatever consequence you promised (be reasonable) so that your child takes you seriously. If the misbehavior happens routinely, use the rule version of the 2X-Rule, which, on Step Two, sounds more like this: “From now on, whenever you hurt your sister, such and such consequence will occur.”

Experiment with Different Approaches
There is no one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting. What works with one child in the family may just not work with another. Therefore, read a few books, join a few forums, take a few parenting classes! You may learn a new strategy that really helps THIS child improve his or her behavior.

Try Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease improve your child’s behavior in addition to other things. Some flower remedies that can help a child who often misbehaves include Holly, Vine and Chestnut Bud. Vine is for the child who wants to do what he wants to do, no matter what you want him to do (strong-willed). Chestnut Bud is the remedy for the child that simply doesn’t learn from his mistakes and punishments, and repeats bad behavior over and over again. Holly is used for children who are jealous (i.e. jealous of a brother’s toy) and misbehave as a result. You can mix remedies together and take them at the same time. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior will improve completely.

Consider Professional Help
If your misbehavior is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a professional mental health practitioner.

Out-of-Control Teens

Some teenagers are model citizens. This article is not about them. This article is about those teens who are acting out – the ones who talk back to their parents, dosage swear at them, act aggressively when upset, have no respect for rules or curfews, do what they want when they want, engage in addictive, destructive, illegal or immoral behavior and otherwise distress their well-meaning parents terribly. It is also about those teens who are “acting in” – those with depression, eating disorders, cutting behaviors and other self-destructive patterns. All of these children frighten, worry and dismay their parents. Why do they behave this way? What can parents do about it?

Out-of-Control Parents
Many out-of-control teens trigger out-of-control behavior in their parents. Because of their intense fear, hurt and helplessness, many parents of out-of-control teens become enraged and display their own version of temper tantrum behavior. In an effort to regain control, some dole out irrational negative consequences like “life-long” loss of privileges or “life-long” grounding. Even if they manage to use more reasonable consequences, many use too many or make them too intense for the crime. The result is a very negative relationship in which the adolescent loses all motivation to please the parent or cooperate in any way. The troubled relationship actually fuels more adolescent pain and more troubled behaviors. The last thing a struggling adolescent needs is an out-of-control parent.

How to Help Troubled Teens
The first step for parents it to maintain total control over THEMSELVES. Parents should let their adolescents know that they are starting a SELF-improvement program: no more yelling, tantrumming, insulting or other disrespectful behaviors. The parent will remove all behaviors from his or her own repetoire that would be unacceptable if the teen engaged in that behavior. For instance, if the parents want the teen to stop yelling, the parent will work on removing yelling from his or her own behavior (the same applies for any other similar behavior such as, unpleasant tone of voice, nasty facial expressions, unkind words, stomping & slamming, etc.). After a month of working on his or her own behavior, the parent can begin to help the teen make similar changes using a similar technique. The teen may be inspired by the model of the parnts. The parents have shown their own willingness to help make things better and they have shown that they can be successful. The teen may be more willing to get with the program when the parents have led the way.

The self-improvement program works like this: the parents promise themselves and their child that each unacceptable parental outburst will be followed by a parental consequence. For instance, when a parent yells, he or she can immediately sit down to write a page of lines to the effect of “I can control myself even if I feel upset.” or “I speak respectfully at all times even when I am upset” and so on. After the first week or two of this consequence, the parent increases his or her lines to two sides (one full page, both sides) and after three or four weeks, to three sides, continuing to make increases until all unacceptable parental behavior stops. If it starts up again at a later date, even months or years later, the parent begins the consequence system again.

Another equally important strategy for parents is to lay the foundation for adolescent change. They can do this by practicing the 90-10 Rule. This rule states that 9 out of 10 parental communications need to feel pleasant to the child. Pleasant feeling communications include things like smiles, compliments, weather reports, gifts, treats, jokes, gentle touch (if wanted), interesting neutral conversation, acknowledgement, good quality listening, naming feelings, having pleasant interactions with other family members within earshot of the teen and so on. One out of 10 communications can be “business-oriented” such as giving instructions, making requests, setting a boundary (using discipline if necessary). When the 90-10 Rule is followed, teenagers automatically become calmer and more cooperative, less rebellious and more interested in pleasing. Their own emotional difficulties settle down a bit. They even cooperate more with discipline when it is required.

More Help for Out-of-Control Teens
Parents can be empathetic toward teens without accepting their abusive behavior. Once parents have brought their own behavior under control, they must insist that their teens work on theirs as well. They will live by the rule “I only give and accept respectful communication” (“I do not give nor do I accept disrespectful communication.”) Using quiet, respectful discipline, the parent can invite the teen to create appropriate consequences for behaving in disrespectful ways.

Troubled teens may really benefit from and appreciate other interventions. Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless treatment that can reduce anger, stress, anxiety, hurt, loneliness, despair, depression and all other painful emotions. Both parents and teens can use this form of treatment to help clear and heal the troubled feelings that prompt out-of-control behaviors. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online and throughout this site.

Professional help can be of tremendous benefit to both parents and teens as well. Even if the adolescent refuses to go to therapy, parents will find that the support and strategies offered by a mental health professional can make a huge difference in their family life.

These are some of the ways we can begin to help our hurting kids. Remember that you are the adult – you must show the way. Patience and love will help a lot. Keep envisioning your troubled teen moving through and beyond these years to a very positive outcome. This optimistic picture wilil help you survive the turbulent times and do your best when it is hardest. It will counteract the anxiety that causes you to over-react or “forget” good parenting skills. The truth is that most kids turn around at some point and become very pleasant, well-adjusted adults – just like you!

Morning Routine

What’s it like in your house in the morning? If someone was observing from outside your window, ask what would they see? Laughter and warmth? Irritation and impatience? Conflict, site screaming, viagra 60mg arguing? Or a mixture of everything?

What would you want them to see? Or, more to the point, what do you want your kids to see? Your morning routine sends your kids out the door and into the world, carrying with them the experiences, messages and emotions of the 7a.m. rush. This period, for school age kids, is one of the two main “quality time” parenting periods of their school years – the other being the “after school crunch.”

Teaching Life Lessons
From the time kids wake up till the time they walk out the door, parents are teaching valuable life lessons. Parents are teaching kids how to manage time. Do you get out of bed early enough to get it all done in the morning? Do you teach your kids how to do the same? Parents are demonstrating how to handle pressure – the deadline of the morning rush. Do you dissolve under pressure, becoming nasty, irritable, panicked or otherwise unpleasant? Or do you model self-control and restraint when your blood is boiling and the clock is ticking? Parents teach kids how to convey love – from the first gentle wake-up tickle of the toes to the tender kiss good-bye. Compliments and jokes and other forms of friendly banter show the kids that they are loved. Do you have the patience and good humor it takes to be loving at 7:30 in the morning? Or is it all about “hurry up, hurry up, carpool is coming!”

Morning Challenges
Children can be morning-challenged in a variety of ways. Let’s look at some typical challenges of the kindergarten to sixth grade set.

  • Dawdlers: This group of slow pokes can really unravel a rushing Mom. It’s important to avoid labeling them as “dawdlers” since you don’t want to reinforce this self-concept. It’s also important to avoid nagging them – that is, employing repetitive requests that will ultimately lead to parental anger. Instead, reinforce quicker behavior by using the CLeaR Method (comment on appropriate speed, label it as “quick moving”, reward it with a kiss or a treat). Also, use the 2X-Rule for limits. For instance, you can say “If you haven’t finished brushing your hair by 7:40, I’ll have to finish brushing it for you.” “If you haven’t finished eating by 8:05, I’ll have to remove your plate.” (You can find more information on the CLeaR Method and the 2X-Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)
  • Distracted Kids: these kids have trouble staying on task at home or at school. Supplementing their diet with Essential Fatty Acids can sometimes help improve their concentration. In addition, use the CLeaR Method to give positive attention whenever on-task behavior is occurring and use the 2X-Rule to set consequences for failing to have certain tasks performed by certain deadlines.
  • Sensory Issue Kids: These kids struggle with the way things feel to them. Clothes that you pick out may not feel “right” causing a delay around getting dressed. Try picking out the clothes the night before, with the child’s involvement. If the child wants to wear the same thing over and over, let her – it’s not dangerous and not worth fighting about every day. Try washing the clothes after she takes them off at night. When it’s impossible to get her the clothes she wants, use Emotional Coaching – naming and accepting her feelings sympathetically. Lectures and criticism are unhelpful and destructive so don’t go there!
  • Non-Compliant Kids: These kids simply don’t listen. They may be strong-willed or just plain uncooperative. They complain about their clothes, the weather, the breakfast and the lunch snacks. They are irritable and demanding. They may benefit from Essential Fatty Acids, Bach Flower Therapy or other alternative interventions as well as Emotional Coaching. Try offering this kind of child choices about clothing and food, preferably the night before. The challenge is not to get “hooked” – these kids are not happy campers. They don’t need your anger to top it all off.
  • Others: Some kids are disorganized and need lots of extra help and structure from the parent. This is a brain challenge – not “bad” behavior. Therefore, patience and assistance are in order. Some kids can’t wake up easily and require modification of their bedtime and help with their wake-up routine. And some MOMS are disorganized and have trouble getting it altogether. However, sitting down and thinking about each child’s morning style, your own style and some small interventions may be all that is necessary to ensure that you have consistently good mornings in your household!

Always Says No

Toddlers just have to say “no.” “Do you want an ice cream cone?” “No.” “Do you want your Teddy Bear now?” “No.” No matter how much the child believes, “yes” at two years old he just has to say “No!” Why is that?

Toddlers are just moving out of the symbiotic stage – the stage in which the child and Mommy blur into one. During infancy, infants and mothers live in the same rhythm almost seeming to share one body. This helps the mother sense when her baby is hungry, when she needs to be changed, when she is tired and all the rest. The baby has no words and everything must be communicated non-verbally. Mother tunes into the baby’s body language and little sounds to read her unspoken message. The better Mom can do this, the more successfully the baby’s needs will be met. Therefore, it is advantageous for mother and baby to share a oneness – a relationship that needs no language.

However, toddlers are beginning to speak. This marks the beginning of their independent existence. Now that they can articulate, they can offer an opinion, express a wish, or give positive or negative feedback. Now the child want to express himself or herself – the child needs to discover the “self” to express.

I am Not YOU
The child finds him or herself by distinguishing it from other selves. I know that something is warm only by comparing it to something that is cool. One thing is blue only if it is not any of the other colors. Differences define unique properties of things and people. Therefore, the toddler finds himself by distinguishing himself from his previously symbiotic partner – Mom.

If Mom wants the toddler to do something, the toddler finds herself by saying “No.” “No, I don’t want to do it whereas YOU want me to do it therefore clearly I am not you. I am me.” (The toddler, of course, doesn’t articulate the whole sentence – just the “no” part!)

Managing the Negativistic Toddler
As wonderful as this developmental stage is for the baby’s development, it can present a formidable parenting challenge. It seems that everything has become an argument. The child is no more Mr. Nice Guy. Now, everything is “no!” What’s a parent to do?

First of all, it can be very helpful to encourage the child’s independence. Instead of butting heads with a toddler (“I said, do it!”), a parent can acknowledge the child’s unique view. “Oh, YOU don’t want to do it. You want to sit here and suck your thumb. You are Joey.” This kind of response actually calms the child a bit, since you clearly understand his agenda and appreciate it properly. Sometimes, after hearing such a sentence, the toddler will end the battle and simply comply with the parent’s wishes. But don’t count on it.

Sometimes, the parent will have to insist – for safety reasons or other practical reasons, the toddler may have no real choice in a matter. However, even in such cases, the parent can first acknowledge the child’s opinion and then ease her into the correct spot. “I know you don’t want to get your shoes on now. That’s O.K. Mommy will come back in a few minutes and put them on you because we have to go soon.”

Giving a toddler some choices can help reduce the amount of nay-saying. “Do you want Cereal A or B?” can be less confrontational than “Mommy has some nice cereal B for you today.” Let the child pick out foods, clothes, toys and even some activities. This way the child can develop her sense of self without having to say “no” to your suggestions.

Most of all, just relax. This stage passes. Although children always need plenty of space in order to become themselves, the toddler’s dramatic negativity will eventually give way to a more moderate amount of dispute (until the teens years, that is). The more you can let your child make personal decisions at every stage of life, the better. Acknowledging his point of view, taking him seriously and showing consideration for his thoughts and feelings can go a long way toward preventing real rebellion later on. Help each child develop according to his or her unique needs and characteristics starting in toddlerhood: say “Yes!” to independent thinking!

Toddler Doesn’t Listen

Toddlers – kids who are between 15 months and 3 years of age – are an adorable group of people! They are just beginning to develop their speech and motor skills which essentially means they are beginning to develop their power. Instead of lying immobile in a parent’s arms, a car seat or a stroller, this group of small people can now do damage! They can hurt an infant, dive into the toilet bowl, rummage through garbage cans and even run out of the house. From their point of view they are only doing what comes naturally: exploring the amazing world around them. However, from the parents’ point of view they are doing what they shouldn’t be doing: engaging in activities that are dangerous, messy, destructive, inappropriate or otherwise undesirable. If an older child were to be similarly occupied, he or she would be disciplined. The trouble with toddlers is that they are too young to be disciplined in the traditional manner. What’s a parent to do?

Teaching Toddlers to Behave
Here’s the good news: toddlers can be educated! The primary way of providing this education is through the judicious application of attention (at the right moments). Keep in mind the main, guiding principle: all attention reinforces behavior. This means that if you ever give any attention of any kind to a toddler, that child will do more of what you have been attending to. For instance, if you smile at a toddler who is gently stroking the new baby, then the toddler will tend to gently stroke the new baby more often. Also, if you yell at a toddler who is squeezing the baby too hard, then the toddler will tend to squeeze the baby too hard more often. ALL attention reinforces behavior – not just pleasant attention.

Now, using this knowledge, you can cleverly shape the behavior of your toddler. Do you want the toddler to say “please?” Then after the youngster says “please” give praise and/or concrete rewards. Do you want him to clean up his toys? Then, after he puts a toy away, show excitement and pleasure verbally and or physically (give a big hug or a pat on the head). Do you want the child to play quietly while you’re on the phone with a business call? Then make sure to give her some special cookies and milk when she manages to do so.

Notice that you are purposefully using attention to increase your toddler’s desirable behaviors. To do so you have to ask yourself “what behavior do I want to see more of?” However, what if you see a behavior that you want to see LESS of? What do you do then?

Again, keep in mind the over-riding attention principle described above. If your child is doing something you don’t want him to be doing, refrain from giving him attention! Instead, figure out what the opposite or desirable behavior is, get him to do that behavior (or wait for it to happen spontaneously) and use positive attention to reinforce the desirable behavior. For example, if the toddler enjoys dipping his hand in the toilet, ask yourself what you want him to be doing instead of playing in the toilet. Let’s say that you WANT him to play with his toys near his toy chest. Then, when you find him at the toilet bowl, gently lift him up and put him in front of his toy chest and give him LOTS of attention for playing in the right spot. Refrain from shrieking at him as he sticks his hand in the toilet bowl. If you get red in the face and start sounding hysterical when he’s near the toilet, he’ll be thrilled! It’s fun to see you go nuts! He’ll just love all that attention. He’ll definitely spend every free minute running to that bowl just to see your reaction. However, if you act absolutely bored by his bathroom escapades, and simultaneously absolutely THRILLED when he’s near his toybox, then he’ll veer toward that toybox more and more often.

Consequences for Toddlers
Older toddlers and very smart younger ones can sometimes be punished for inappropriate behavior. However, if you give a toddler a consequence on three different occasions, you must make sure that it is having a positive effect. Many people put a toddler in his crib or room for hurting a baby or hitting an adult. That’s fine if it “works” – that is, if it reduces the hurting hitting behavior. But if you’ve been disciplining your toddler in this way for months on end with no improvement in his behavior, then STOP using that consequence immediately! Always check after a few times to see whether a consequence has changed the child’s behavior and if it hasn’t, then change the consequence! Some toddlers will willing sit on a “thinking chair” when asked to. Again, that’s great – as long as the sitting leads to a positive change in behavior. If you are ready to try using negative consequences with your toddler, be sure to use the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details). This structured form of discipline will help keep you calm and prevent emotional damage to your child. Always warn your child before giving a consequence. Always use a consequence you’re willing to carry out. Minimize the amount of attention you give your toddler when you’re giving a negative consequence because – as you now know – the attention itself can encourage more inappropriate behavior.