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How to Prevent Unacceptable Behavior in a Child

by Sara Ipatenco, studioD

Temper tantrums in the grocery store, defiant shouts of disagreement, hitting and ignoring parents are among the most unacceptable behaviors that children display. While you have to accept that your child isn't perfect and won't behave all the time, you can instill positive behaviors that show up most of the time. Consistency is the key, and once you've put your rules and consequences into place, you'll likely notice that your child behaves more often than he misbehaves.

Following Rules and Getting Consequences

Write your house rules on a large piece of poster board using a marker. Invite your child to help you list the rules, including no hitting, no talking back and listening the first time. Include a consequence, such as a time-out, next to each rule to remind your child what will happen if he breaks a rule. Letting your child help you list the rules will help remind him how he's supposed to be behave. Hang the list of rules where your child can see them such as on the refrigerator or a cupboard door.

Make a behavior chart. Divide a piece of paper into columns and rows. Dedicate each column to a desired behavior, such as listening and staying in bed at night. The behaviors should match the rules you listed on the poster board. Include seven rows, one for each day of the week. At the end of the day, let your child put a sticker in each section that he accomplished. If he gets all of his stickers at the end of the week, reward your child with an extra bedtime story or allow him to stay up late and watch a movie.

Dedicate an area of your home as the time-out spot. This is where your child will go when he breaks one of the rules you've outlined. Put a stool or small chair in the area. When your child breaks one of the rules, remind him what he did, take him to the time-out spot and have him sit. When the time-out is over, again remind your child why he was sitting there, ask for an apology and then forgive your child. Do this each time he breaks one of your rules and he'll likely get so tired of sitting there that he'll remember to behave more often.

Use selective ignoring to help preserve your sanity, recommends Dr. William Sears, a leading pediatrician and author. This works for little transgressions, such as repeating the same word repeatedly, that aren't on your rules chart, but are undesirable nonetheless. If your child is annoying you, but isn't in danger or won't hurt anyone or anything else, ignore him. If he doesn't get a reaction to his behavior, he'll probably quit it quickly.

Incentive Behavior Strategies

Praise your child when he behaves appropriately. When you notice your child is obeying the rules, tell him that you're proud of him and that you like his behavior. Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator for children and often encourages significant improvements in behavior in the future.

Use a ticket system to further reinforce good behavior. Purchase preprinted tickets, such as the ones used at carnivals, at a party store. Each time you see your child behaving, give him a ticket that he can put in a jar. Once he has a certain number of tickets in the jar, he gets a prize. Replace the tickets with other items that can be put in or taken out of the jar if you don't want to buy tickets. Marbles and pennies work well, too.

Take a ticket out of the jar as a consequence for bad behavior. This will motivate your child to behave because he won't want to have to re-earn all of the tickets already in the jar.

Items you will need
  •  Poster board
  •  Marker
  •  White paper
  •  Pencil
  •  Stickers
  •  Stool or small chair
  •  Preprinted tickets
  •  Jar


  • Always model the kind of behavior you want from your child. For example, if you want him to say "please" and "thank you," you should always say "please" and "thank you."

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

Photo Credits

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