Want Better Behaved Children? 5 Strategies That Work

I’ve worked with a lot of kids. Really, that’s an understatement. I started working with children when I was only fifteen. And I’ve worked with them day in and day out since I was twenty-one.

With children of all ages, temperaments and developmental levels, I have learned a lot about managing their behavior. I almost always get them to do what I want them to do.

Here are some strategies that really help me and can help you too!

Play with your child! This is a big one. Set aside some time every day to play. Children will misbehave to get our attention. But if you take some time to give them your undivided attention, play and have some fun, you can reduce or eliminate this behavior. How much time? That depends on the child. But for this period of “play time”, hang up the phone, turn off the tv, and put the laundry aside. It can all wait. Just relax, have some fun and let your child know that they are your only concern.

Set clear expectations and be consistent. In my sessions I always let children know beforehand what’s expected of them. The rules and expectations remain consistent. I am not unreasonable and will occasionally “negotiate” to some degree. However, if I make a final decision I stay firm to that decision.

While giving in is the easier alternative at the moment, it will make the behavior worse and more frequent in the future. It makes children think that all they need to do is beg scream or cry to get their way.

One way I might say “no” yet negotiate is if a child asks to play a particular game and I have something else planned. If I say “no” I might also say to them “If you remind me next time you come we could play that game first”. Depending on the age and comprehension level of the child this usually works well. It gives them some control and responsibility.

Try this one at mealtime. If you have already prepared chicken and your child requests hamburgers, let them know that they could remind you tomorrow and you will make hamburgers for dinner. Do not cook something else for your child if they refuse to eat what you have cooked. (As a feeding therapist I have solutions if you’re having problems with your children at mealtime. It is critically important that you seek professional guidance if your child may be a problem or resistant eater.)

Make sure they understand the rules. It is very important, especially when a child has a communication disorder, to make sure they understand the rules. One technique I use with children who are verbal is to have them repeat back what I have told them.

If they do not seem to understand, we spend some time going over the rules until I am sure they understand. Children with language disorders may need rules repeated many times, possibly every day. Always give reminders, however be realistic and give rules that you know they have the ability to understand and follow.

If I see a child drifting towards breaking a rule, I quickly compliment them for following the rules which most often gets them back on track. By doing this I give them positive attention and also remind them of the rules. Always try to be positive unless the behavior is dangerous or harmful.

Save your yelling for serious situations so they do not become numb to hearing you yell. It is ok to say “no”. Even if that means your child is going to scream and cry. I often say “no” to children’s requests. But I make sure to find things to say “yes” to as well. Think carefully before you say “no”.

If you say “no” to everything or inconsistently it will not mean as much as it would if you save “no” for when you really mean it.

In my house we are at the childproofing stage. Jason and I have made the decision not to over-childproof. We want Maya to learn the difference between what she can and cannot do. Other than removing and blocking some dangerous things we have kept our house relatively the same.

At 10 months she knows not to touch the tv, electrical cords, or her night light (I wouldn’t leave her alone with them, but when I am watching she doesn’t touch them). When she first tried we firmly said “no” and removed her from the situation. Now when I say “no” loudly she most often will complain and crawl the other way.

Ignore attention seeking behavior that is not harmful. If your child is doing something to annoy you and get your attention, yet is safe, pretend you don’t notice. But, keep a close watch out of the side of your eye for something good to compliment him on. You need to pick up on the cue that your child is looking for attention, and give it to him in a positive way. That way you encourage the good behavior.

One example of how this has worked in therapy is when one particular child snuck a toy away from me and hid it under the table. I immediately complimented her on her speech and began to try to play the game. Eventually she quietly placed the toy back on the table and finished her work. No negative attention was given to this harmless behavior.

Now, I do realize that seeing a child for 30-60 minutes is different than living with that child. But these strategies work in real life too. Even if your house is very busy and your time is limited, with some persistence you too can have better behaved children.

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More