Are you seeing bad behavior in children? Here’s how to raise kids not just to behave, but who WANT to, even when no one is looking.
We have it backwards.
A ton of parenting advice discuss kids’ misbehavior and how to get through their outbursts. We deal with tantrums, follow through with consequences, and pick our battles.
All good stuff. Except, what if we could raise kids who want to behave?
Kids will act up and misbehave, no doubt—even we adults do. And we should worry if our kids never tested boundaries.
But what if we focus less on patching up misbehavior and instead focus on preventing them in the first place? What if we focus less on power struggles and more on building strong relationships with our kids?
This doesn’t mean we’ll be permissive. We still need to enforce limits and set boundaries and be authoritative.
Maybe we can address deeper issues and prevent misbehavior in children to begin with.
Seeing bad behavior in children? How to raise them to want to behave
Let’s focus on preventative measures. This isn’t a “1-2-3 process then you’re done” article. Instead, examine your parenting and how your actions contribute to your kids’ misbehavior. Build a different relationship that encourages them to want to behave in the first place.
Give uninterrupted time.
Have you noticed that kids act up when we’re not at our best? Either we’ve got a zillion tasks, or we’re having a bad day ourselves, or we’re too tired to meet their demands.
Kids sometimes test their limits because they need our attention.
It’s not so much a direct and conscious act: “I need mom’s attention. Let me spill this milk on the table.”
Instead, they feel terrible yet are too young to grasp their emotions, much less know what to do with them. They’re tired, so they’re not making the best decisions. Nor are their patience and understanding at their best. And it’s during these least convenient and most annoying times that our kids need us the most.
What to do? Before they have a chance to spiral downward, reconnect with your kids. When they wake up in the mornings, hold them in a warm embrace and gather for breakfast. Play a game or read a book before dashing out the house. Not enough time? Wake up 10 minutes earlier and snuggle together in bed.
After school, greet them with a warm smile and a hug. Let your face show that you’ve missed them and are so glad to be in their company once again. Discuss your days.
Giving your kids 100% of your time, even for 10 minutes, can erase their anxiety of having been apart. They’re less likely to misbehave after having their cup filled. And they’re more likely to play without needing your constant attention.
Set high expectations.
In some classrooms, teachers who set low expectations of their students received just that. Students who tested poorly and misbehaved. But teachers who set high expectations saw different results. These students performed not just average but exceeded the achievements of more advantaged students.
All because the teacher expected a lot of them.
The same holds true with parents and their children. How do you view your children? Do you pick up after them and let them talk back because you figure that’s just how they are? Or do you expect your children to behave, to be self-sufficient, and to respect others?
Define your expectations… then enforce them. Your kids have the potential to meet them. Kids who misbehave do so because they’ve heard the message that that’s all they’re capable of.
Erase that mindset and establish new and higher expectations. One that demands respect, kindness, and love. One that will warrant praise for all their hard work, and the encouragement to reach higher.
Change your mindset, and you’ll see a difference with how your kids behave.
I notice a huge change when I restate my son’s emotions from his point of view. “You feel disappointed because you can’t watch your movie right now.” Or “I bet it doesn’t feel good to wait for dinner.”
The mere acknowledgement of his feelings erases the divide between you and your child. You’re on the same side. You’re there to help him through his emotions. To show you understand what he’s going through, even while you enforce the rules.
And sometimes that’s the trouble with the parent-child relationship. Power battles can get in the way of what can be a loving, respectful relationship. But the more our kids see us as coaches or guides rather than tyrants á la “Kids rule! Adults drool!” the more they’ll want to make us happy.
Watch your reaction when kids misbehave.
“Are you okay?”
That should be the first reaction when you see your child get hurt, even if she misbehaved in doing so. Not: “See? That’s why I said not to jump off the couch!” Our priority should be our kids’ well-being, with discipline and teachable moments coming second.
Stay calm as well, especially during a meltdown. They need to know you won’t go away, even when they’re at their worst. They’re less likely to tantrum again, having you nearby to help them regulate emotions.
Want a quick guide to handling tantrums? Download this FREE printable below:
And when your child tells you something he did wrong, thank him for telling you. He shouldn’t feel so scared of your reaction or of potential consequences. You don’t want him to keep things to himself than to admit them. Let him know he’ll always have your support no matter what.
Kids can behave, regardless of temperament. It’s easy to point to kids and assume they’re the type to misbehave.
Focus on building a strong, supportive relationship with your kids—one without the power struggles—while still enforcing boundaries. Set high expectations of how your kids should behave, regardless of their past behavior. Show empathy so they know you’re on their side.
And watch your reaction when they misbehave. A positive one assures your kids you love them no matter what.
Get more parenting tips:
- What to Do when Your Child Disrespects You
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- On Accepting Your Children for Who They Are
- 3 Lessons Every Mom Raising Boys Needs to Teach
- Are You Balancing Your Children’s Needs Fairly?
In which ways do your kids behave well, and in which ways can they improve? What else can we do to raise kids to want to behave?
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