How to Correct Bad Behavior in Children

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Bad behavior in children comes in a variety of packages that include minor offenses, such as occasional whining, to major offenses, such as regular physical outbursts. Although it can be difficult to deal with unruly behavior, avoiding addressing it can lead to escalating problems. A firm, unwavering approach is needed to correct bad behavior in children. Once corrected, it's important to provide positive reinforcements to ensure the desired behavioral changes become permanent.

  • Assess the developmental age and personality of each child. This helps tailor your approach to fit the needs of the situation. For instance, there are rules you expect a teenager to keep in mind that a toddler won't yet understand. Avoid using a cookie cutter approach when correcting bad behavior. Treat children as the individuals they are; even children within the same developmental age group react to corrective measures differently.

  • Define good and bad behavior using age-appropriate language. Talk with children about what is expected of them in both public and private situations. Provide examples of their past unacceptable behavior along with reasonable ways to improve. Let children know that good behavior is possible and that you are confident in their ability to behave responsibly.

  • Set a consistent positive example for children to follow. Children soak up information from their surroundings and can sometimes develop bad behavior because of "mimicking." Hold yourself to a high standard when children are in your presence. Avoid using bad language and treating others with disrespect. Know that children follow your example whether or not you ask them to.

  • Address instances of bad behavior in real time. Making corrections as bad behavior occurs ensures children know when they're crossing limits. Tailor the amount of correction to the type and intensity of the offense and the setting. For instance, a stern look in the grocery store followed by a short response to "quit the horseplay" serves as an appropriate correction. Avoid embarrassing children or playing into their bad behavior. Getting frustrated only complicates the situation and makes it seem like you can't follow your own rules.

  • Restrict privileges for bad behavior while rewarding good behavior. Taking away privileges when bad behavior occurs allows children to see the consequences of their actions. Grounding older children and putting younger children in "time-outs" is another way to express disappointment in their behavior. Rewarding positive behavior also reinforces the message that being good is the right thing to do. Ensure that your punishments and rewards suit the intensity of the behaviors. Keep children encouraged by letting them know when they make progress. Consider setting up a chart system to track behavioral improvements and slip-ups.

  • Ensure the entire family is on board with the disciplinary measures. Send a solid message that bad behavior won't be tolerated. Talk to other family members to set standard rules, rewards, and punishments. Ask caregivers and teachers to inform you of bad behavior and any improvements. Let children know that their behaviors are being monitored and that they won't be able to play caregivers against each other.

Tips & Warnings

  • There is a difference between being firm and being a bully. Avoid yelling at children because they may mimic this negative behavior. Listen to the reasons your children give for their bad behavior. You may need to reassess outside influences such as television programs and friendships. Track your child's behavior with incentive charts.
  • Correcting your own behavior may be difficult. Be honest about things you can change to provide the best example for your children.




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