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5 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Behavior

We love our kids, but that doesn’t mean we always like them.

Children are programmed to test boundaries, which means breaking rules that we know they already understand.

As soon as it seems like things are going smoothly, one child or another enters a phase of defiance.

It can be so frustrating to continually be trying out different systems of discipline and feeling like they are ineffective.

It’s overwhelming to check out’s parenting section (there were over 200,000 results for “parenting books”).

Which book actually works? How do you know who to trust? What if I waste my time and money reading and it doesn’t work with my kids?

Friend A says to try this method, but Friend B says that didn’t work for them. There are a million things that race through your head when trying to decide what to do next. It can be overwhelming for any mom hoping to do what’s best for their child.

I understand the frustration because we all know that every child is different, so you may even need several styles of discipline in your own home! While there are many methods out there, it seems there are several universals when it comes to discipline, which I will share here.

Here are my top five tips for effective discipline.

Understanding why the outburst happened

Before doing or saying anything, try to understand why your child is misbehaving. The most common reasons are due to hunger, anger, loneliness (wanting attention), and being tired.

So run through a quick checklist to see which of those might apply to this situation, and respond accordingly.

The second part of understanding is to use that knowledge to reduce your own anger/frustration at the situation.

I’m guessing your work performance doesn’t improve much when your boss yells at you, and the same goes for children.

By understanding that their problematic behaviors stem from an underlying cause, and are not just for the purpose of making you angry, it can be easier to cut them some slack and respond more calmly.

Now I’m not saying they don’t incur any consequences for their behaviors, but rather that yelling is the least effective way of communicating your point.

Effective Communication

As with adult relationships, communication is an important part of healthy relationships with our children.

One of the major reasons for misbehavior is poor communication of expectations by a parent.

Think of the last time you were engrossed in a book or a TV show that you loved, and your partner asked you to do something. I’m guessing you either didn’t fully get what they were asking because your attention was divided, or at the very least you did not want to stop doing what you enjoyed to do that task instead.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve seen this situation play out with kids and lead to massive, house-disrupting arguments!

If your child is playing a video game, he or she is not listening to you… even if they say “okay, I got it.”

Yelling to your child in another room to do a chore is a recipe for having that chore go uncompleted.

Of course you’re busy making dinner, or doing another important household task and you just want a little help.

Kids need to have chores and be part of the household, but there are more effective ways to communicate your needs.

  • Eye contact – when asking your child to do something make sure there is eye contact. And not just the 5 second looking away from the screen eye contact. You need to be sure you have their full attention for them to understand what you’re asking.
  • Clear expectations – providing directions that allow for broad interpretations mean your child will do as little as possible to meet the “done” criteria. What I mean by this is saying, “pick up your room,” will likely lead to everything on the floor simply being placed on the bed, dresser, desk, in the closet etc. Everything was “picked up,” but that was not what you intended, of course. Be very clear in what your expectation is for a task to be completed, and ensure your child understands.
  • Acknowledgement of understanding – Having your child repeat back to you what you asked, rather than just saying okay. They can’t say they didn’t “get it” if they are able to explain what your expectation is. This allows you to clarify if there is a misunderstanding. One way to ensure your expectations are clear and the child understands is to have them written out.

Use Praise Often

It feels good when your boss says nice things to you, right?

Even when kids are doing things they “should be doing,” showing appreciation for their efforts can go a long way.

So often we only catch our kids when they’re causing problems, but it is important to catch them being good, too!

It’s easy to criticize when things are only done 90%, so try and instead praise the 90%. For sure 90% is better than 50% or 0%!

Also, “You did a good job cleaning, BUT do this next time” is NOT PRAISE. Anything before “but” is ignored and they only hear the criticism.

Instead, when you ask them to do the task the next time, specifically include the “do this also.”

Praise as much as you can, repeatedly, and you’ll find it much easier to gain compliance in the future.

Consistency in enforcing rules

If our kids break the rules 1,000 times, it’s our job as parents to maintain the rules and discipline 1,001 times.

The reason you see people sitting in front of slot machines for hours on end is because they are “intermittently reinforcing.”

What that means is sometimes they pay out, sometimes they don’t. You cannot predict it.

The big jackpot always MIGHT be on the next pull, so you keep pulling.

We do not want to be slot machines to our kids.

If you sometimes don’t enforce the rules, or give in when they tantrum, then you are the slot machine.

They will continue to misbehave and tantrum because the reward MIGHT be there this time.

Consistency goes a long way towards reducing bad behaviors because kids learn that there is no benefit.

One important thing to mention is that if you’ve been pretty inconsistent in the past and want to change, you can expect your child’s behavior to get worse before it gets better.

They will try furiously to test you and push you to give in before they finally relent and recognize you are now consistently enforcing boundaries.

Many parents give up during that worsening period, but it is the storm before the calm as long as you don’t give in!!

Rewards for good behavior

The term rewards can be a little bit confusing. Some parents dismiss the idea of rewards at all because kids are just doing what they should be doing anyways.

I try to reframe rewards to be like our paycheck. We go to work so we get a paycheck.

The paycheck comes to us because we’re doing something we should be doing, but we wouldn’t do it without the paycheck.

Kids are more likely to do something they should be doing if they are rewarded for it.

Many parents promise extra things to their kids as a reward if they’re good, such as a toy, but that can get expensive.

What I prefer is to use things your child already has and enjoys as their reward.

For example, many kids love TV or tablets or video games. So we start to implement a system where if the child completes a certain number of their chores, they are allowed X amount of screen time in the evening.

If they don’t complete the chores, no screen time. The child is rewarded, or given their “paycheck” for completing the specified tasks.

It doesn’t cost any extra money, and you can choose things that you know will be motivating for your kids.

Rewarding in this way works MUCH better than always allowing access and taking away the privilege for non-completion, even though they seem to be similar concepts.

Hopefully those tips will help to improve your child’s behavior and make discipline a little less painful. They won’t work with every child, of course, so please reach out with any questions you might have to [email protected] or 727-498-1809. And if you want to schedule a free 30 minute consultation, I would love to chat about your specific situation and how we might work together to improve your child’s compliance.

Dr. Kevin Hyde

Dr. Kevin Hyde

Dr. Kevin Hyde is a clinical psychologist licensed to practice in the state of Florida. He resides in Pinellas County with his wife and two young daughters. In his spare time, Dr. Hyde enjoys relaxing at the beach with family, watching Nationals baseball, baking bread, and keeping up with current events. He founded Pinellas Anxiety Specialists with the intention of providing high quality anxiety therapy to reduce the stress and anxiety that so many cope with on a daily basis.