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How to Teach Children About Behaving

by Tiffany Raiford, studioD

It’s normal to expect that your children will not behave perfectly every day, in every circumstance and every time you tell them to behave. Children have a job, and that job is to learn to behave. Your job as their parent is to teach them how to behave. Without you and your expectations, rules and consequences, your children likely will suffer in the behavior department. Consistency, diplomacy and positive reinforcement are the key ingredients to teaching your children how to behave.

Lay down the law. One of the most important steps you can take to teach your child proper behavior is to set rules and let your child know exactly what those rules entail. When your children knows what the rules are, you leave no room for misunderstanding. Make the rules easy for your children to understand. For example, make the rule, “No hitting,” rather than a more complicated version such as, “No harmful physical contact is permitted inside the house.”

Enforce the rules at all times. Your children will not learn anything about behavior if you are not consistent in enforcing the rules. Rather, they might begin to think that the rules are guidelines and that they won’t get in trouble for breaking them every time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, logical consequences are a good way to teach kids about behaving when their actions need discipline that cannot be handled naturally. For example, if your son runs out in the street after being told not to, you have to create a logical consequence because the natural consequence of his behavior is being hit by a car. In this instance, you need to create a consequence, such as taking his toys away for the rest of the day.

Enforce natural consequences whenever possible, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. Natural consequences are the direct result of behavior. For example, if your child decides she does not want to do her homework and she receives a bad grade that prevents her from participating in her class’ pizza party this Friday, let her deal with the consequence of missing her pizza party. Kids learn to behave best when they learn on their own.

Use the word "do" more than the word "don’t," according to Billy H. Frazier, professor at the Family and Consumer Sciences department of the University of Maryland, and Bonnie B. Tyler, professor at the University of Maryland's Institute for Child Study. Teach your children to behave by teaching them what to do rather than what not to do. It's a more encouraging way to teach, according to experts at the University of Maryland.

Don't spank or hit your children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Imagine being a child who hits another child, and think about what you learn when your parents spank you and then tell you hitting is bad; the message is confusing and dangerous. Teach your children to count slowly to 10 in an effort to calm down, and practice the same on your children.

Encourage your children with positive reinforcement. When she does something good such as placing her snack dishes in the sink rather than leaving them on the table without being asked, praise her great behavior. Your child is more likely to want to behave if she receives positive attention from her good behavior, advises Ellen Abell, assistant professor at the Family and Child Department of Auburn University.

Think about what you want to teach your child about behaving before you speak, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, if you want to teach your child about behaving by punishing him for his inappropriate behavior, you need to think about the best way to handle it. You should make consequences or threats against his poor behavior only if you are prepared to follow-through. For example, if you aren’t really going to go into his room and take every single toy out of it for the rest of the day, don’t threaten to take all of his toys away. Instead, threaten to take his favorite one away if he does not heed your warning to behave.

Use your child’s feelings whenever appropriate, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, if you notice that she tends to misbehave when you are playing with her baby brother, use that as an opportunity to talk to her about her behavior. She is more likely to learn more about behaving if she is able to figure out which of her emotions cause her to behave inappropriately. In this case, her envy that she has to share your love and attention with a younger sibling is what is causing her misbehavior. Now you both know something about her behavior and you can both work on fixing that problem.

Turn your own mistakes into lessons. When trying to teach your child about behaving, you are bound to make mistakes. Instead of worrying about what you did wrong, ask yourself what you could have done better next time. For example, if you yelled at him for doing something wrong, the only thing you taught him is that raising voices is a way to manage anger, which is not appropriate. Make a mental note not to do it again, and explain to him what you did wrong, why it’s wrong and what you’ll do better next time.

About the Author

Tiffany Raiford has several years of experience writing freelance. Her writing focuses primarily on articles relating to parenting, pregnancy and travel. Raiford is a graduate of Saint Petersburg College in Florida.

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