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What to Do With a Bad Behaving Kid?

by Rosenya Faith, studioD

Getting a child to behave can often be challenging for even the most patient parent. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing a few of your own behaviors, while other times it can mean going back to the drawing board and modifying your discipline plan altogether. Fortunately, with a little persistence, bad behavior will soon be a thing of the past.

Respond Quickly to Bad Behavior

It is important to respond calmly and consistently each time a child demonstrates bad behavior. This helps to establish a clear line for the child between what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Extricate the child from the situation and go to a calm and quiet place to discuss the events that just took place. Particularly for young children, it's important to discuss what happened as quickly as possible rather than placing them in a time-out by themselves. This reinforces the message that you do not want to be around your child when she is angry or misbehaving. Instead, stay with her in her "calm-down" place.

Emphasize the Behavior

When a child is told he is “bad," “trouble" or “a problem" on a regular basis, it is a message that can quickly become internalized. It can have a negative impact on the child's self-esteem as he learns to identify himself as a “bad kid." To help your child maintain a positive self perspective while also acknowledging and correcting bad behavior, separate the child from the behavior. Say “You hit Isabella because she took your toy. Hitting is not okay because it hurt her," rather than “you’re a bad boy for hitting Isabella." The first example acknowledges the negative action instead of a child's innate bad behavior.

Acknowledge Good Behavior

It is equally, if not more, important to acknowledge the good things a child does to show her she is on the right track. Offer praise for good behavior and explain why you are proud of the way the child acted. “I'm very proud of you. That was very nice of you to help your sister clean up your toys," or “I know you wanted to play with the truck, and I'm very proud of you for waiting your turn." It is okay to reward a child for good behavior on occasion, but avoid rewarding a child with sweets and other foods. It can create an association with food and behavior, which can lead to physical and emotional problems later in life. Furthermore, avoid bribing a child for good behavior. For example, “If you're good in the store, I'll buy you the toy you wanted." Bribery does not teach good behavior, but rather it teaches a child to perform particular behaviors for treats, toys and other material items.

Demonstrate Good Behavior

If you want your child to exhibit good behavior, you will have to lead the way. Throughout the childhood years, parents are a dominant influence on the way a child acts and thinks, and what qualities they value. Parents are the ultimate role model; helping to shape the person your child is continuously striving to become. If you want your child to stay calm in difficult situations, show him how through your own example. If you want him to talk politely to others, talk politely with your child and ensure he sees you speaking politely with others as well.


  • Child Psychopathology, 2nd ed.; Eric J. Mash, et al
  • Getting Your Child from No to Yes: Without Nagging, Bribing, or Threatening; Jerry L. Wyckoff, et al.

About the Author

Rosenya Faith has been working with children since the age of 16 as a swimming instructor and dance instructor. For more than 14 years she has worked as a recreation and skill development leader, an early childhood educator and a teaching assistant, working in elementary schools and with special needs children between 4 and 11 years of age.

Photo Credits

  • Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images