how to improve your child's behavior

7 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

The day included tears, angry words, and bad behavior from my child. But by nighttime, as I sat on his bed, the day’s events felt like a distant memory. “I love you,” he said, his voice sleepy. “And I’m sorry. You’re the best dad in the world.” Warm feelings rushed through me, replacing any negative reminders of what he’d done hours earlier. I kissed him good night. By the next day, the incident forgiven, I forgot about the punishment and allowed him to watch TV. Then, a few days later, he did the same bad behavior and I wondered how he could do it again. Hadn’t he said he wouldn’t?

Has this happened to you? Have you ever wondered why you’re not getting anywhere with your child’s behavior? I know it may be hard—it’s hard for me too—but holding your child accountable is so important for nipping bad behavior in the bud. Here are 7 ways to improve your child’s behavior and make it work for your family.

1. Don’t reward bad behavior.

Do you give a child a different meal if he or she protests at dinnertime? Kids whose parents give in quickly learn that making a fuss gets them what they want. Kids are smart and often learn what works and then keep doing it.

2. Give more positive reinforcement.

Do you always focus on the negative things your child does? Maybe he’s learned that’s the only way he can get your attention. Be sure to praise the things he does well. “I like how you listened while your sister was talking and didn’t interrupt.” Sometimes I have to look really hard for positive things to say to my child. But it’s worth the effort.

3. Don’t give too much freedom around the house.

Does your child walk into the kitchen and choose snacks whenever she wants? Is she able to turn on her iPad without asking? Giving your child too much freedom at a young age breeds entitlement. She begins to think, “It’s my right.” You want your kids to understand that “Mom and Dad are in charge, and they know what’s best for me.”

4. Give your child more responsibilities.

When my friend’s son was little, she would select his outfits for the week and neatly fold them into piles on his dresser. All the kid had to do was put the right set of clothes on. Giving your child the choice of what to wear is an easy transfer of responsibility. He can make his choice at night before bedtime for a stress-free morning. Similarly, he can pack his own school bag and put it by the front door. Other ideas to improve your child’s behavior by assigning chores can be found here.

5. Set higher standards for your kids.

An acquaintance once sighed and said “boys will be boys” when we saw two kids tussling on the playground. But I disagree. If your child is doing something he shouldn’t—like playing too roughly with his brother—step in. My kids argue, but I’m going to let them know that in this family, we don’t name-call. Set clear standards. Expect more from your kids. Once they understand the bar is set high, they will work to reach it.

6. Don’t step in and save your child all the time.

I have struggled with this one. When my daughter forgot her homework, I rushed home to get it. When my son called from the main office saying he forgot his lunch, I jumped in the car and delivered it. But I’m trying to hold my kids more accountable. Yes, it’s so hard to hang up, hoping he has the courage to buy lunch. But with practice on both our ends, he will be stronger for it. He’ll learn he is capable of handling setbacks and this strength is a quality that builds character. Other ways I’m trying not to save my children include giving them their own alarm clocks and encouraging them to talk to their teachers if there is a problem at school.

7. Talk respectfully to your wife and with kindness.

How my kids treat my wife is sometimes a direct reflection of how I treat her. If I thank her for cooking a delicious meal, oftentimes my kids chime in. The kids are always watching us. They want to know how to behave in the world. Treating your wife with respect and kindness is the first step toward having kids who treat other people in a way that would make you proud.

Sound off: What are your thoughts on how to improve your child’s behavior? What has worked for your family?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How are you affected when I compliment what you do right and when I point out what you’ve done wrong?”