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How to Teach Good Behavior Without Harsh Discipline

Kids can be hard to handle sometimes. When a child acts out, you may be unsure how to handle it effectively. In most cases, you don't have to resort to punishment. Instead, talking to the child and setting positive expectations can make a big difference.

EditSteps

EditCreating a Positive Environment

  1. Tell the children you want to change your behavior (if applicable). If you feel that you used ineffective strategies before, it may be worth talking about it to the kids. This helps them recognize to expect you to behave differently. Apologizing for past misbehavior also sets a good example. Here are some things you could say if you feel you need to improve your discipline techniques:
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    • "I want to stop yelling at you. I think it's a bad habit of mine, and it's not very nice to you. I'm working on expressing my feelings more calmly. I don't ever want to be scary to you, and if I ever am scary, you can tell me and leave the room."
    • "I know I used to spank you before. But I've done some research, and I realize now that hitting does not solve my problems. I do not want to hit you ever again."
    • "In the past, when I've been upset with your behavior, I put you in time out. But I feel like that's not helping at all. I want to figure out a better way to teach you to behave well. Maybe we could talk about things more. What do you think? What would help you learn?"
  2. Meet the child's needs when they say something. Unmet needs can lead to misbehavior.[1] Meet the need, and misbehavior may not happen. When a child expresses a need, acknowledge it, either meeting it now (e.g. giving them food) or telling them your plan to meet that need soon (e.g. saying "you can get a snack as soon as we arrive home"). Pay attention when a child says (or hints at) things like:
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    • "I'm hungry"
    • "I'm tired"
    • "I'm frustrated"
    • "I'm thirsty"
    • "I'm scared"
    • "I'm bored/lonely"
    • "I want to ____"
  3. Keep your expectations reasonable. Some kids, especially younger ones, have limited self-control and attention spans. Kids are going to be annoying sometimes, and they won't always be little angels. They might not be able to do everything you ask of them, no matter how hard they try.
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    • If a child doesn't act the way you hoped, ask yourself: Have I been pushing them too hard? Could they need a break? Is it possible that they'll be able to do this after they eat/drink/rest, or would they still probably fail?
    • If a kid consistently fails to do something that you ask of them, then it may mean that they can't do it (even if it looks like they aren't trying).
    • Toddlers, younger children, and kids with disabilities may often struggle to express themselves clearly.[2] Be patient and do your best to listen and help them talk about it.
  4. Be clear about your expectations. Kids can't follow the rules if they don't know what they are. Let them know what you expect from them, and give reminders as needed.
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    • Kids can forget things easily. If you see a child breaking a rule, give them a reminder. They may correct themselves.
    • You can write a list of the most important rules, and place it somewhere where kids can read it.
  5. Be willing to discuss and negotiate calmly. Kids are more eager to behave when they feel like they have a say in what the rules are. Take a more flexible approach. Try asking "Do you think that's fair?" to them. If they think it's unfair, let them tell you what they think the rule should be. Then, talk it out.
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    • It's okay to make small concessions, like "you can play one more round before we go" or "okay, you can stay up half an hour later."[3] This can empower the kids to have a role in decisions, and feel heard.
  6. Offer praise when the child does something well. Good praise is specific and positive. State what you noticed, and react positively. This helps children feel proud of their good behavior and makes them more likely to do it again.
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    • "Thank you for cleaning your room. It looks so nice!"
    • "I noticed that you put away the dishes without being asked. That was so thoughtful of you."
    • "Thank you for playing so quietly while Mommy was working at her desk. Because you were being so quiet, she was able to focus and get more work done, and that made her happy."
    • "You were so helpful to your brother getting ready for school. You are so grown-up and it's really cool to see that."
  7. Praise the child when they stop doing something negative. Let them know that you see them behaving better and that you appreciate it. This helps consolidate the gain and encourages the kid to continue behaving better.
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    • "I noticed you taking deep breaths instead of screaming at your brother when he was bothering you. That was very mature of you."
    • "You're being so gentle with your baby sister. That's really nice to see."
    • "You didn't complain tonight when I asked you to put on pajamas. That was really nice for me. I appreciate you making bedtime easier."
  8. Make sure to spend quality time with the child. Kids need attention, and sometimes they act out if they aren't getting enough of it. Make sure that the child has ways to spend positive time with you. Here are some things you can do:
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    • Ask about their day and what's on their mind and listen
    • Read to them
    • Let them show you projects they're working on
    • Draw pictures together
    • Play board games or video games together
    • Go for walks or hikes
    • Play backyard sports
  9. Keep practicing your good habits, even if they don't work at first. If you've been in a negative dynamic with a child before, and then you start a new approach, it may take some time for the child to adjust. They may continue, or even escalate, their bad behavior in the hopes of getting your attention. It's important to stay strong and avoid resorting to bad habits like shouting or making threats.
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  10. Stay away from bad discipline habits. Avoid being too aggressive, oppositional, or scary towards your children. Escalating conflicts usually makes things worse, not better. Work on reducing and eliminating bad discipline habits.
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    • Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment do much more harm than good.[4][5] Children who are spanked tend to become more aggressive, resentful, and difficult to manage.[6] They're also at higher risk of mental illness, cognitive impairments, and other problems later on.[7][8][9]
    • Yelling can cause kids to shut down, and may teach them to yell back at you.[10] Too much yelling at home can make kids afraid of you, and harm their self esteem.[11][12] Try to only yell as a last resort to get attention. If you lose your temper and start screaming, apologize afterwards.
    • Name-calling, including telling a child that they are being "bad," can harm a child's self image and make them believe that misbehavior is in their nature.[13][14][15] Instead of calling a child naughty or stupid, talk about their behavior.[16]

EditHandling Misbehavior

  1. Try ignoring the small stuff. If a child is whining, causing minor trouble, or being annoying, it's best not to reward them with attention. Instead, wait calmly for them to be done, and reward them with positive attention when they stop being irritating (from a smile to a "thank you for stopping").
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    • Sometimes, it's best to just laugh it off if a child is being silly.
  2. Try redirecting a kid who is getting antsy or engaging in minor misbehavior. If you can tell that a kid is likely going to misbehave soon, or is doing something that isn't great, try redirecting them.[17] Sometimes, they just need to refocus or be given a reminder. Try saying things like:
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    • "This grocery store is pretty loud, huh? Why don't you and your big sister go outside to the field by the parking lot and hang out there until I'm done?"
    • "Please quiet down. Screaming hurts my ears. If you want to talk about what's wrong in your normal voice, I can listen."
    • "This is frustrating. Let's take a break and come back to it later."
    • "We need to leave soon. Let me know when you're ready to get into the car."
    • "Mumbling under your breath won't help me fix your problem. If you want to talk to me about something, you can tell me about it directly."
  3. Seek to understand first, not punish first. If a child is acting out, it's often a sign that something is wrong. If you can figure out what's wrong, you may be able to collaborate with the child on a better way to solve the problem.
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    • Whining may mean that a child feels powerless, upset, or lonely.[18]
    • Being bossy might mean that a child feels anxious, or that they worry their needs won't be met. Try to find out what's so important to them.
    • Rebelling may mean that the child needs an opportunity to show you how capable they are. Try giving them more responsibilities so they can prove themselves.
  4. Focus on comforting an upset child. If a child is extremely emotional, they probably can't think straight, and discipline may only upset them further. Instead, work on calming them down and showing loving support. Validate their feelings, and offer physical comfort (like a hug or a hand to hold) if they would like.[19][20] Here are some examples of things you can say to calm an upset child:
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    • "I'm here for you. You can cry as much as you need to."
    • "I can see that you're upset."
    • "I'd like to help you, once you're ready to talk to me about it."
    • "It's okay to cry."
    • "I can tell you're really scared about this problem. I want to be here to help you through it."
    • "You're allowed to be angry about this. You're in a really tough situation."
    • "I can see that hitting the floor right now feels good. Go ahead and let out all your feelings. I'm right here and I can hold you if you would like."
  5. Ask the child about their side of the story. Let the child tell you about what was going on, and why they did what they did. Listen non-judgmentally, without making threats or assigning punishments yet.
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    • The child may say that they already know that it is wrong. If so, you don't need to tell them.
  6. Figure out how to meet an unmet need. If the child acted out because they needed something (like food, quiet time, or attention), see if you can meet that need now. This can calm them down and help them start behaving better.
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  7. Give any needed information. If the child didn't understand why what they did is wrong, they may need to know the reason.[21] Explain why their behavior is bad, and let them know what they can do instead.
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    • "We color on paper, not walls. Walls are supposed to stay white and clean. Paper is meant for writing and coloring, so it's the perfect place for your art."
    • "Calling names makes people feel bad. You may see other people calling names sometimes, but they shouldn't do that, and it's a bad idea to copy them. You can tell people you're upset with them, but it's not right to call names."
    • "Looking both ways before you cross the street is really important. If you don't see a car or a bike, and it hits you, you could get really hurt. That's why I got so scared. I need you to look both ways so that you can stay safe."
  8. Talk to the child about how to handle the problem next time. You can try asking the child what would be a better idea, and see what they come up with.[22] You can also offer suggestions of your own. Work together to agree on a better solution.
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    • "When you need to take a break, please tell me, instead of throwing a tantrum. I promise I will do my best to listen."
    • "We pet dogs gently. Watch how I'm petting Peanut now. See how gentle this is?"
    • "Yes, I agree. Next time you don't know how to fix a problem, you can come to me and we can talk about it."
    • "Hitting your brother is not okay, even if you're really mad at him. The next time he gets into your personal space, you can tell him to stop. If that doesn't work, get an adult, like me, for help."
  9. Implement natural consequences, if needed. Have the child fix the problem that they created. This can be a positive experience, and you can help them fix things if it's difficult for them. Making amends is an important skill to learn.
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    • If the child upset someone, they can apologize and make amends if needed by doing something nice for them. Ask them what they think would be some ways they could make amends.
    • If they broke something, have them fix it or (help) pay for a replacement.
    • If the child made a mess, they can clean it up (with help if needed).
  10. Express your feelings about their behavior if they aren't sorry. Many kids do feel regret over behaving badly, especially if you talk to them. But if a child has no remorse, then you may need to be a little more stern with them. Here are some examples:
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    • "I'm not happy with you hitting other people."
    • "We do not yell at other people, no matter how upset we feel. How you treated her was not okay."
    • "Lying is not right. How do you think he felt when you said he made the mess?"
    • "I'm very disappointed with your behavior right now."
  11. Consider a discipline as a last resort. If a child knows why their actions were wrong, and knows how to behave better, but still insists on misbehaving, then discipline may be your best answer.
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    • Taking away a toy or electronics for a reasonable time period
    • Grounding, or stricter curfew for a time
    • Loss of privileges

EditBeing a Role Model

  1. Stay calm, especially when the child gets emotional. Do your best to be a peaceful influence.[23] When a child sees you are calm, this can help reassure them and encourage them to be calmer too.
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    • Waiting in serene silence can be very powerful, especially if a child is acting out. Calmly watch them, and wait for them to calm themselves.
    • If you can't keep your cool, you may need to step out of the room. You can say "I'm having a hard time controlling my temper right now, so I'm going to stand in the corner for a minute and take some deep breaths."
  2. Act the way you want your children to act. Kids don't just learn good behavior through talking: they learn it by watching you.
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    • If you break a rule, be honest about it, and implement the appropriate consequences for yourself.
  3. Talk about your own difficult feelings, and how you intend to handle them. Kids may not understand how to deal with emotions, so hearing you talk it out can help. Let them hear how you feel and what you want to do about it.
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    • "I'm really frustrated right now. I can't believe I just dropped grapes all over the floor. I think I need to take some deep breaths, and then clean up."
    • "I'm feeling sad today. My mom is sick, but I can't go see her because she lives far away. Maybe I would feel better if I called her, and then played with the cat."
    • "I'm feeling pretty tired. I think I need some quiet time to relax. I think I'll talk to Daddy about our schedule, to see if I can make time for a nice warm bath. That often helps me feel better."
  4. Give yourself time to figure out how to handle things. It can be easy to get frazzled or upset in the stress of the moment. It's okay to pause and breathe.[24] Here are some things you could say to the child:
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    • "I need a moment to calm myself down."
    • "I'm going to pause and think about how to handle this."
    • "I don't know what to say. Please give me a minute while I think about this."
  5. Apologize if you make a mistake. Adopting a new discipline style can be difficult,[25] and it's possible that you'll sometimes lose your temper or handle things badly. Don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, apologize to the child, and make amends if needed (just like you would like the child to do when they mess up).
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EditTips

  • Adults can take time outs too! Try giving yourself a time out if you need to regain your composure.[26]
  • Always remember to be a good role model, especially around young children.

EditRelated wikiHows

EditReferences


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from How to of the Day http://bit.ly/2vZhGCq

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