Being a mom is one of the hardest – and most rewarding – jobs you will ever have.
The days are long, but the years are short, and nothing can prepare you for the emotional roller coaster that is parenthood. From navigating the first few years of sleep deprivation, temper tantrums, picky eating, and potty training, to figuring out how to discipline your child and teach him about more complex things like empathy, respect, and gratitude, it can feel all-consuming.
The good news is that we live in a day and age where we have access to more information than we know what to do with. Moms, dads, teachers, and therapists everywhere are sharing tips and techniques to help us be better parents, and we are better people for it.
There’s always a better – and easier – way to do things, and while this never-ending access to information can often feel overwhelming, it is possible to weed through the noise and find something that works for you and your family.
It just takes time.
But time is a luxury very few of us have, and if you are struggling to find the best way to discipline a child with behavioral problems, you’re in luck because I’m sharing 9 behavioral management techniques for parents that actually work.
Just 9 strategic ideas to help you empower your child to make good behavior choices every single time.
CHOOSE ONE BEHAVIOR
When we reach our breaking point with our child’s behavior, we tend to go to the extreme. We want to fix every single behavioral issue RIGHT NOW, and fail to remember that change takes time. The best way to discipline a child is to pick one behavior to work on at a time. Take 5-10 minutes to write out all of the things you and your child are struggling with and circle the ones that disrupt your child’s day the most. From that list, choose the behavior that puts your child (or others) at the most risk, or the one that causes the most challenges and disruptions.
Once you’ve identified the first behavior you want to work on, spend some time observing your child. Keep a log of his behavior patterns over several days to see if there are any consistencies. Make sure to record things like sleep, diet, bowel movements, changes in routine, sickness, etc. as all of these things can negatively impact behavior.
If you identify one (or more) cues that tend to trigger your child’s behavior, see if you can work around them. Make sleep a priority, increase snacks between meals so his blood sugar doesn’t get too low, visit the playground after school so he can get out additional energy before tackling his homework, keep him home from school when he’s under the weather, limit screen time…you get the idea.
OPT FOR POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Reinforcement is a fabulous technique parents and caregivers can use to deal with child behavior problems, and while both positive and negative forms of reinforcement can help teach children self-control, research tends to suggest that positive reinforcement – the act of rewarding a child when he completes a desired behavior as a means of increasing the likelihood he’ll repeat the behavior again – is the most effective. Sticker charts are a simple, yet effective, form of positive reinforcement that can be extremely motivating for kids, and I love this Magnetic Reward and Responsibility Chart as you can easily customize it for your individual child. It’s important to note that teachers aren’t always fond of using this technique in the classroom as it involves rewarding students for doing what is expected, but it’s a great tool to use at home!
USE CONSEQUENCES WISELY
Unlike punishment, which is aimed at making a child suffer in retaliation for inappropriate behavior, consequences offer an opportunity for children to learn from their mistakes. When used properly, consequences can teach children responsibility, accountability, and problem-solving, but not all parents and caregivers use this approach effectively. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts about implementing consequences to eradicate behavior problems in children:
- Criticize. Remember that the goal behind using consequences is to provide an opportunity for your child to learn from their mistakes, not lower their self-esteem.
- Blow things out of proportion. Consequences should be natural and logical. For example, implementing additional study time after school is a natural consequence when a child receives a bad grade on a test. Taking away his TV privileges for a month is not.
- Delay consequences. In order for consequences to be effective, they need to be implemented immediately after the undesirable behavior occurred.
- Ignore bad behavior. If your child is engaging in undesirable behavior that isn’t dangerous or harmful to himself or others, ignore it. Do not engage him and avoid eye contact until he stops the behavior in favor of something more acceptable, at which time you should offer praise and positive interaction.
- Use praise and rewards. Taking the time to point out and praise or reward your child when he behaves appropriately not only boosts his self-esteem, but it also teaches him what your expectations are and makes him more motivated to seek our desirable instead of undesirable behaviors.
- Be consistent and follow through. In order for consequences to work, you must resist the urge to intervene and always follow through!
From managing impulsive behavior, resisting distractions, and learning the art of delayed gratification, to regulating emotions in the face of conflict and feelings of discomfort, self-regulatory behavior is key to success in all areas of our lives. And since children with poor self-control tend to exhibit more behavioral problems than their self-disciplined peers, teaching children self-control is more important than parents might think. We’ve written an entire post about self-regulation (you can read it HERE), which is based on 6 main strategies: being clear about rules and expectations, following a predictable routine, providing regular reminders, using positive reinforcement, following through, and being a good role model.
CONSIDER A FIRST/THEN BOARD
A first/then board is a visual representation of what you want your child to do now (FIRST) and what will come after (THEN), and the idea is to make the first task less desirable and to follow it up with some sort of reward. For example, if your child consistently gives you a hard time about completing his homework after school, your first/then chart might look like this:
FIRST: homework for 30 minutes
THEN: play video games for 10 minutes
You can play around with this approach for your individual child, and make it more motivating by awarding stickers each time your child works on an activity or chore he doesn’t like for a certain increment of time, which he can then use to ‘buy’ additional time doing an activity he loves.
CLICK HERE for an alternative good behavior chart I created that has proven to be a great parenting tool in our house!
Another great strategy to promote positive behavior in children is to increase their perceived level of control by offering choices. This can be used at mealtimes, when doing household chores, and in the classroom. By empowering a child to make his own decisions through a choice-making strategy, he will be more motivated to participate, and his disruptive, aggressive tendencies will likely decrease.
SPEND QUALITY TIME TOGETHER
If your kids have a tendency to pull at your legs while simultaneously demanding snacks and sippy cup refills the moment you pick up your smart phone, chances are they’re just vying for your attention. So instead of checking your Facebook feed or calling your BFF to complain about how difficult motherhood is, take some time to actually engage with your children so they don’t feel the need to beg for your attention by acting out every time you need a few minutes to yourself. Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to fill your child’s bucket by spending uninterrupted quality time together. You don’t need to do anything fancy or spend and arm and a leg on an elaborate outing. You just need to be genuine and consistent. Here are 75 simple ways you can spend quality time with your child every single day!
If I can leave you with one more piece of advice, it’s this: be a good role model.
Our children are watching us more than we realize, and one of the best – and often overlooked – behavior management techniques for parents is to manage our own behavior first. If we live in a perpetual state of distraction, irritation, and impatience, how can we expect anything different from our children?
Jim Henson once said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” Along those same lines, L.R. Knost also said, “Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’”
Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
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