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.