How to maintain control when a child is misbehaving

Sometimes our children have less than ideal behaviors. While it can be frustrating, the key to focus on safety in the moment and then focus on communicating values so that their behavior improves in the future.

Small children may not yet know how to control their impulses and older children can choose not to use their self-control. While it is our responsibility as parents to rear our children to follow our family’s values, we know that there will be times that their behavior will be less than ideal. We can see these situations as teachable moments. We do not have to tolerate the behaviors of a child who is being dishonest, disrespectful, or who is not practicing self-control. When our child is behaving in a way that takes away the rights of others (such as other adults or children) in a social setting, we have the right to limit the child’s influence in the areas where the negative behaviors of the child are affecting the family or other children.

Here are three simple steps to maintain the wellbeing of everyone in your family when you have a child who is misbehaving in your home:

  1. Clarify your family norms with the child. We don’t know what we don’t know. Perhaps the child is not aware of your expectations. State which specific behaviors are not acceptable in your house, tell the child simply and clearly how to correct their behavior, and let the child know you expect them to conform to your wishes.
    1. Example: “In our home, we pick up our own toys after playing. So, when you finish with the Legos you are playing with, please pick them all up off the floor, put them in the plastic bucket, and put the bucket in the closet. Everyone is expected to pick up after themselves here.“
  2. Limit harmful or disrespectful behaviors. At times, children cannot anticipate the consequences of their actions due to development or stubbornness. When a child is engaging in activities that are actually or potentially harmful, or disrespectful to other people or things, interrupt the child during the negative behavior and describe the potential consequences that may happen if they continue. Be clear that you cannot permit them to continue.
    1. Example: “Please stop kicking the ball into the street. When you kick the ball into the street, it is dangerous to the cars that are passing by and for the person who has to step into the street to retrieve the ball. If you do not stop, I will need to take the ball away.”
  3. Praise positive behaviors. Most children respond very well to positive feedback and praise. Catching children being good is a wonderful way to reinforce behaviors you want to see more of. When a child is fitting in, behaving well, or acting kindly give a small shower of praise. Then, when you see the child’s other parent, tell them about the specific, positive behavior in front of the child. This gives the praise staying power because it has been shared in a social community and increases the likelihood that the good behavior will be repeated.
    1. Example: “Susie, I liked how you followed my directions the first time. You are a really good listener.” Be short, specific, and include the child’s name, if possible.

These three easy steps will help you feel confident and in control as you make sure your child stays safe even when they are misbehaving. Remember that after assuring their safety, the next step is to set limits and apply discipline so that you can prevent future behavioral problems. Focusing on the values that are important to your family will help you determine what limits are appropriate and guide your child towards a happy and healthy future.

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