From the tantrum throwing toddler to the eye rolling teen, there will always be times where your child misbehaves. With a few rules, positive communication and changes in your own attitude, though, you can help teach your child to behave more often than not. Teaching your child to behave doesn’t mean making his life as miserable as possible when he misbehaves, but teaching him about choices and self control instead. Your approach depends on the age of your child.
Under Age 3
Set routines for playtime, meals and bedtime. Change is difficult for young children to deal with, so a routine helps them know what to expect.
Prevent your baby or toddler from getting into situations where he might misbehave. Don’t leave him unsupervised in a room full of breakable items. Make sure he’s well rested and fed before running errands to prevent tantrums.
Redirect your little one when she is tempted to misbehave. If she’s about to touch the DVD player, direct her attention to a fun toy instead.
Offer examples of what he can do rather than what he can’t do. If he’s throwing food off the tray, say “Keep your food on the tray,” or “Put your food on the plate,” rather than yelling “Don’t throw your food.”
Give your little one choices to let her have some sense of control. Ask if she would rather pick up her toys by herself or have you help.
Praise your child for positive behavior and specifically name the behavior when you do. Instead of just saying, “You’re such a good girl,” say “Thank you for helping pick up your toys. That makes mommy so happy.”
Age 3 and Above
Set routines and rules for school (when appropriate), meals and bedtime so your expectations are clear and your child knows when a rule is broken.
Keep your expectations age appropriate. You can’t expect a 4-year-old to clean up as well as a 13-year-old or a 5-year-old to obey as much as a 16-year-old.
Talk about possible rules with your child before setting any. Getting your child’s input lets her feel like she has some control and also clears up any possible misunderstanding about the rules.
Set clear rules that don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. Use as few details as possible for younger children, such as “Put away toys” or “No hitting.” Use more details for teenagers so there is no misunderstanding. Instead of just saying, “Don’t stay out too late,” discuss how many nights of the week they can go out and the exact time you expect them home.
Explain the reasoning behind the rules. “Because I said so,” isn’t an acceptable answer when you’re trying to explain why you’re punishing your child for breaking a rule. If you don’t have a good reason for the rule, you need to come up with a different plan.
Set age-appropriate consequences for breaking the rules. You might use time-outs for younger children and loss of privileges for older children.
Stay consistent and firm when it comes to enforcing the rules.
Watch your own attitude and actions. Don’t lash out at your spouse or a friend. If you are frustrated over something, explain why to your child. Remain calm when disciplining your child. If you feel angry, take a few minutes to calm down before discussing the rule breaking.
- KidSource: How to Teach Your Children Discipline
- University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service: Teach Your Children to Behave
- KidsHealth: Teaching Your Child Self-Control
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Helping Young Children Behave
- Healthychildren.org: Talking With Your Teen -- Tips for Parents
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images