How to Change Bad Behavior in a Child

Children don't always make the best choices. Sometimes children choose bad behavior because they want attention, and even negative attention is better than nothing. Other children behave badly because they don't know any better. Some children don't choose to behave badly, they just act impulsively. Parents have the ability to change the behavior, and well-behaved children reap lots of positive attention.

Things You'll Need

  • Time-out chair
  • Timer
  • Poster board
  • Stickers


    • 1

      Ignore bad behavior. The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh recommends that parents ignore harmless behavior such as silly noises or verbal arguments between children. However, no parent should ignore physical or verbal abuse between children or any other harmful behavior.

    • 2

      Place the child in time out. The time-out area is a chair or corner set aside where the child receives no attention. Place the child in the time-out area and set a timer. A good rule of thumb for the maximum time is to multiply the child's age by two. Therefore a 4-year-old child shouldn't be in time out longer than eight minutes. Before allowing her to leave, ask her why she was placed in time out to be sure she understands her actions and the resulting punishment. Work with the child to make a plan for the next time she faces the same situation for a different outcome.

    • 3

      Redirect the child from bad behavior. Engaging the child's intellect overrides his emotions. Redirection works especially well in public. For example, if the child is whining for a toy in the store, ask the child to help you find something else. Make it a puzzle or present it in a way that makes the child the expert. Ask the name of that robot cartoon character or movie hero.

    • 4

      Allow the child to experience the consequences of her own choices. Children come into the world impulsive, following any idea that develops. Jim Fay of the Love and Logic Institute suggests that parents allow children to experience the results of their actions. For example, a parent may remind the child to study. But if she chooses to watch TV instead, the parent should send her to school, even if she isn't prepared for the test. One failed test teaches the child more than hours of parental lectures.

    • 5

      Use incentives for positive behavior. Create a poster board chart that records the good choices the child makes. Use stars or stickers to provide a clear visual record of good behavior. When the child has earned a set number of stickers, plan a special family outing that focuses positive attention on the child.

Tips & Warnings

  • The child must be kept safe at all times. While it is normal for toddlers to be impulsive, they should grow out of thoughtless behavior by age 6. Impulsive behavior in an older child can indicate developmental or learning disabilities. If the child is making choices that places him in danger, talk to family members, teachers or your family doctor. If he is harming himself, consult a pediatrician immediately.
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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

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