4 Tips For Changing Your Kid’s Behavior

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Before you get too excited thinking that reading this blog will transform your offspring into perfect little angels, let me assure you:

THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET. Also, everything I will be telling you is simple, but NOT necessarily EASY. You might want to grab a latte or massage your temples for a minute.

Uh, oh. Don’t stop reading though, there is still hope! There are some things you can do to make the children just a little more manageable. You may be surprised, though, that most of what I’m going to tell you is about changing YOUR behavior, in order to (hopefully) change THEIRS.

First, a little something I like to call adjusting our expectations. That’s right, even psychologists have bratty kids, at least at times. I don’t expect my kids to be perfect, and neither should you. I don’t even expect them to be especially well-behaved all the time, and neither should you. We all have our moments, our hours, our days even, when we are not at our best.

It’s the same for our kids, and sometimes even more so. They’re still learning about the world and they don’t have the benefit of all our “wisdom”, and even when we attempt to impart said wisdom, sometimes they’re simply having none of it. But fear not: some of it is sinking in. Just wait until you hear them saying things that came directly out of your mouth, as if you are a ventriloquist. Eerie, but at least you know something stuck. Let’s hope it’s something good.

Here are four tips to help:

1. Decide what your expectations in any given situation are, and make sure they are actually reasonable. Can a 3-year-old handle an hour-long church service? Maybe. Maybe not. Is the 9-year-old capable of completing all the chores you would like her to do? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s all relative, and I can’t tell you what fits exactly for your family, but you can figure that out. Just be aware that sometimes our parental expectations are based more on fantasy than reality! If you don’t know what your expectations are, back up and think about that. If you are not sure how they should behave, how can you expect them to respond?

2. Be clear! Make sure you have the little darlings’ attention (this is KEY), and then tell them what you would like. Avoid muttering to the back of their heads while they are engaged in mixed martial arts with one another, watching TV, or reading a book. Likewise, make sure what you are telling them is an instruction, rather than a suggestion or a question.

  • Good: “Please brush your teeth now so we can be ready for school on time.”
  • Not-So-Good: “We don’t want to be late for school, do we? Can you brush your teeth? Please? C’mon, let’s go, please brush your teeth. Okay, in 5 minutes…”

Don’t be afraid to state in no uncertain terms what you expect, and what the consequences will be for either going along with the program or bucking the system. If the expectation is that the kids will clear the table after meals, tell them. You don’t have to nag, just say it calmly. Maybe your contingency is that dessert is dependent on eating a parent-approved amount of the meal, AND clearing up without fuss (this just so happens to be ours). They don’t have to be psychic, just tell them. Don’t be upset if they don’t always do it automatically without reminders.

3.  Follow through! Repeatedly begging, cajoling, yelling…not so effective. Say it once and mean it. I’m not above saying it one more time in certain situations, but watch for the telling them 10 times trap. You are not doing your children any favors if you have little to no expectations of them. Though you are also wasting your breath if you say you have expectations but never enforce them. I know, “enforce” sounds sort of nasty, but I only mean this in the sense that you do what you say you are going to do.

Kids, believe it or not, really do want to know that you care about what they are doing. And one way to show them is that you follow through with consequences, whether they are pleasurable or less-so. Nope, I don’t want to have to go upstairs and stop whatever I’m doing to calm down the crazy children who don’t want to sleep. But guess what? Yelling up the stairs for 20 minutes is useless; they know I’m not coming up until my voice hits that certain volume and I start using their middle names. So, better to just make the rules clear and follow through!

4. Have fun with your kids! The rest of what I’m telling you has no meaning if you are constantly cranky or annoyed with your kids! Though it may seem at times that the clock hands have been dipped in molasses or you’ve stepped into an alternate universe where time has no meaning, really it all whizzes by when you stand back and look at it. Your kids will always be your kids, but they (probably) won’t always live with you. And they definitely won’t always need help zipping their coats or remembering where they put their glasses.

Enjoy the time you spend with them (more on this later in a blog about mindfulness!) and take pleasure in the little things. Think about all the great things that make them special or funny or sweet. The better your relationship with your kids, the better your attempts at managing behavior and guiding them into becoming happy, healthy, productive members of society will be.

–Lori J. Warner, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

4 Responses to “4 Tips For Changing Your Kid’s Behavior”


  1. 1 Nichole Enerson February 23, 2011 at 10:50 am

    FANTASTIC post, Lori! It’s not always easy to take a step back and see how our behaviors influence our children. Thanks for the reminder:)

  2. 2 Nancy Johnson February 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Awesome advice! Wish I had had this kind of direction and support when I was a young mother. i know I could have done a better job with more insight like this!

  3. 3 Sarah Jo March 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Yes, great post! As parents we often put too much focus on our kids, when it’s really us who needs the adjustment. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. 4 DR March 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Good, solid, easy to remember tips! Thanks for keeping it real, Lori! DR


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