From Naughty To Nice: 5 Proven Ways To Stop Bad Behavior

By Parenting Expert Michele Borba, Ed. D.

One thing has never changes: kids will be kids and that means they sometimes misbehave. Though there are no quick-fixes or sure-proof ways to raise well-behaved kids, research shows certain strategies do increase our odds. In fact, there are a few basic psychological principles that are proven to change behavior not only quicker, but also for the long-term-that is, of course, assuming you use them correctly and consistently. The best news: they work with grown-ups, as well as kids.

You must start by identifying the specific behavior that is driving everyone crazy. Granted, your child may be displaying a number of behaviors that need fixing, but it's best to work on only one-and never more than two-behaviors at a time. That way, you can develop a much more specific behavior plan to eliminate the bad behavior, and you'll also be more likely to succeed.

Five Behavior Turnaround Strategies

Here are five simple, proven discipline solutions that if consistently used will help turn even the toughest behaviors around.

#1: Be the Model You Want Your Child to Copy

Behaviors are learned best by seeing them done right, so make sure your own behaviors are ones you want your child to copy. (I call that the Boomerang Effect: what you throw out to your child is like a boomerang that comes back to hit you in the face). Beware: inappropriate behaviors kids often learn from adults include: lying, aggression, impulse spending, gossip…etc. So, ask yourself one question each night: "If my child had only my behavior to watch today what would he have caught?" Also point out the example of other kids using the "right" behavior at the park, playground, on a play date, or even characters on a TV show. Kids usually learn behaviors best by "seeing" what is right not from you "telling" them.

(Manipulation: The Habit You Need To Break.)

#2: Use the Right Kind of Reinforcement

Research shows that using the right kind of praise is one of the fastest ways to shape behavior. And it does not have to cost a dime. Genuine physical praise (hugs and high fives), social praise (an outing with you to get an ice cream) or verbal praise work wonders.

The most effective praise is always specific and aims at the positive opposite of what you're trying to extinguish. If you tell your child exactly what he did right, he'll be far more likely to repeat the action. Adding "because" to your statement makes your praise more specific, so your child knows exactly what he did that was correct and he'll be more likely to repeat the behavior.

"That was respectful because you held the door without rolling your eyes."

"You used self-control that time because you used your words instead of your fists."

#3: Use "Selective Ignoring"

Arguing, whining, pouting, sulking, tantrum throwing are annoying but don't cause a danger to anyone or damage anything. Kids usually use them as attention-getters because they work, so don't give them attention and the behavior will stop. You give absolutely NO attention to the child (pretend to be deaf and that your child is invisible). Then, the second your kid uses the right behavior-- reinforce it! Warning: Once you start ignoring a certain behavior, you must keep ignoring. Attention-getting behavior may increase before subsiding because the child is testing you. Don't let her win!

(5 Tips To Help Shy Kids)

#4: Teach a Replacement Behavior

A big mistake is failing to teach "replacement" behavior - or the behavior you want your child to use to replace the inappropriate one. It's what you want your kid to do instead. For instance, your son or daughter is having quite the outburst and you yell, "Calm down!" Just don't assume he or she knows how to do the appropriate behavior.

  • Show, don't tell: Your toddler is pulling the dog's fur. Take his hand and show him the right way.
  • Repeat the correct behavior: Your preschooler is grabbing his brother's toys: "You can't grab, but you can use your words to tell your brother you want a turn. Let's practice a few times."
  • Teach a new skill: Your school-aged child is displaying anger by hitting. "When you start to feel yourself getting mad, take a deep, slow breath then slowly blow the anger away."

Then find ways for your child to practice, practice, practice the appropriate substitute until he can do the new behavior on his own. Remember, the goal of discipline is to change behavior by teaching your child what to do instead.

#5. Not to be Forgotten: Use the Rule of 21. For details, click here.

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