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Three Fundamental Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior
“I can’t get my kid to listen to me. I’ve taken everything away from him… TV, toys, the iPad, and he still doesn’t listen. I don’t know what else I can possibly take away.”
A lot of moms find themselves saying these things. They feel stuck because they’ve tried disciplining their children with little success. As a result, they have trouble with not only getting their kids to listen, but they also start experience a strain in the parent-child relationship.
But have no fear… because there are three basic methods that you can start using today in order to improve your child’s behavior. (Related Post: How to Improve Your Child’s Behavior: A Therapist’s System)
These three fundamental ways to improve your child’s behavior are listed below in order, based on their level of importance. You’ll notice that the most important method involves giving something to your child, NOT taking something away.
Also, notice that punishment is on this list. However, it’s listed last because the first two methods can actually be so effective that you may not even need to use too much punishment. Wouldn’t that be nice?!
3 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior
1. Give Your Child Positive Praise, Attention, and Reinforcement.
For every time you correct your child, try to praise or reinforce your child’s good behaviors 5 times. Giving your child praise might sound easy, but to many of us, it doesn’t come naturally to do it that often. So start practicing now (and praise your spouse or partner while you’re at it).
The idea of giving your child lots of attention also sounds so simple but can actually be really hard, especially when you have multiple children, a job, errands to run, and everything else you need to get done in a day. However, if you pick an amount of time that’s feasible for you, even if it’s 5 minutes a day, to spend some time with your kid doing something interactive that he or she enjoys, it will make a world of a difference. And you don’t even need to leave your home to do this.
Overall, if you can reinforce your child by giving him things like praise, positive attention, or occasional rewards for good behavior, he’ll want to please you and keep doing that good behavior.
Related Post: Do’s and Don’ts for Praising Your Child and Increasing Good Behavior.
2. Ignore Some Behaviors.
You never want to ignore any behavior that could be unsafe or damaging. But yes, it is actually OK to ignore certain behaviors.
For instance, let’s say that you generally have a hard time getting your child to clean his room, but this time, he listens to you by heading toward his room when you tell him to.
Ignore the stomping and shouting that he does on the way to his room for now, as unpleasant as it may be, because he’s ultimately doing what you asked. (You can always shape up these behaviors later once your child has mastered the basics). Over time, your child will learn that stomping or saying mean things doesn’t get him what he wants, so he’ll stop engaging in those behaviors because they’re no longer effective.
Keep in mind that sometimes children just want a reaction from you, so giving in to their reactions only feeds into the bad behavior. Remember that giving attention to a behavior, whether it’s positive or negative attention, can potentially increase the behavior.
To learn more, check out: When Is It OK to Ignore Your Child’s Behavior? (A Child Therapist’s Perspective).
Want to get your kid to listen better? Take my FREE 5-day Master Mommy mini course!
3. Know When and How to Use Consequences/Punishment.
Finally, we’ve come to punishment. The term “punishment” can sound negative but is the technical term for a technique used to decrease a behavior. Feel free to use the term “discipline” instead though.
It’s important to remember a few key things when disciplining your child. (Related Post: 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Disciplining Your Child)
- Try to use discipline sparingly. If you’re using the first two methods above enough and avoiding power struggles by giving your child options and letting him have control at times, you most likely won’t need to use discipline as much.
- Be consistent. Don’t punish a behavior that deserves punishment one day and then let it slide the next day.
- Try to get other caregivers on board with what behaviors to punish and what form of punishment to use. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. For example, grounding your child for a month would not really be a fit punishment for a relatively small misbehavior. The punishment needs to be fair.
- Don’t make empty threats. If you don’t follow through with the warnings you give, then your child will not take you seriously.
- Give time-outs a try, assuming that your child is at an appropriate age. Many parents give up on using time-outs because they believe they’re ineffective, but there are lots of little tweaks you can make to increase their effectiveness.
These techniques can be extremely helpful if you use them correctly and consistently. While this was just an overview of these techniques, there are more important details that are essential to carrying them out effectively.
For a step-by-step guide to help you improve your child’s behavior, check out this FREE cheatsheet!
Disclaimer: Although I was a therapist, I am not your therapist or your child’s therapist. Reading this post does not enter you into a client-therapist relationship with me. The content in this post is meant to be used as a general guideline and has not been individually tailored to the needs of you and your child. If you are in need of therapeutic services, please seek the support of a mental health counselor or behavior specialist.
References: My information comes from years of training on Applied Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other evidence-based techniques. I also like to refer to Russell Barkley (Defiant Children) and Alan Kazdin (Parent Management Training).