How to encourage good behaviour in your child
A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide children’s behaviour. This means giving your child attention when they behave well, rather than just applying consequences when your child does something you don’t like.
Here are some practical tips for putting this positive approach into action.
Tips for good behaviour
1. Be a role model
Use your own behaviour to guide your child. Your child watches you to get clues on how to behave – and what you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise their voice, speak quietly and gently yourself.
2. Show your child how you feel
Telling your child honestly how their behaviour affects you helps your child see their own feelings in yours. And if you start sentences with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to see things from your perspective. For example, ‘I’m getting upset because there is so much noise that I can’t talk on the phone’.
3. Catch your child being ‘good’
When your child is behaving in a way you like, give some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I really like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’. This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and say, ‘Hey, stop that’.
4. Get down to your child’s level
When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what they might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps your child focus on what you’re saying about their behaviour. If you’re close to your child and have their attention, you don’t need to make them look at you.
5. Listen actively
To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks, and repeat back what you think your child is feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks fell down’. When you do this, it can help young children cope with tension and big emotions like frustration, which sometimes lead to unwanted behaviour. It also makes them feel respected and comforted. It can even diffuse potential temper tantrums.
6. Keep promises
When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. Your child learns that you won’t let them down when you’ve promised something nice, and your child also learns not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence. So when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up the toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy. When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to leave straight away.
7. Create an environment for good behaviour
The environment around your child can influence their behaviour, so you can shape the environment to help your child behave well. This can be as simple as making sure your child’s space has plenty of safe, stimulating things available to play with. Make sure that your child can’t reach things they could break or that might hurt them. Glasses look like so much fun to play with – it’s hard for children to remember not to touch. Reduce the chance of problems by keeping breakables and valuables out of sight.
8. Choose your battles
Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it really matters. By keeping instructions, requests and negative feedback to a minimum, you create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings. Rules are important, but use them only when it’s really important.
9. Be firm about whining
If you give in when your child is whining for something, you can accidentally train your child to whine more. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not maybe, so don’t say it unless you mean it.
10. Keep things simple and positive
If you give clear instructions in simple terms, your child will know what’s expected – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. And positive rules are usually better than negative ones, because they guide your child’s behaviour in a positive way. For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.
11. Give children responsibility – and consequences
As your child gets older, you can give them more responsibility for their own behaviour. You can also give your child the chance to experience the natural consequences of that behaviour. You don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. For example, if it’s your child’s responsibility to pack for a sleepover and they forget their favourite pillow, they’ll have to manage without it for the night.
At other times you might need to provide consequences for unacceptable or dangerous behaviour. For these times, it’s best to ensure that you’ve explained the consequences and that your child has agreed to them in advance.
12. Say it once and move on
If you tell your child what to do – or what not to do – too often, they might tune out. If you want to give your child one last chance to cooperate, remind them of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.
13. Make your child feel important
Give your child some simple chores or things that they can do to help the family. This will make your child feel important. If you can give your child lots of practice doing a chore, they’ll get better at it, feel good about doing it, and want to keep doing it. And if you give your child some praise for their behaviour and effort, it’ll help to build their self-esteem.
14. Prepare for challenging situations
There are times when looking after your child and doing things you need to do will be tricky. If you think about these challenging situations in advance, you can plan around your child’s needs. For example, give your child a five-minute warning before you need them to change activities. Talk to your child about why you need their cooperation. Then your child’s prepared for what you expect.
15. Maintain a sense of humour
It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humour and fun. For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor. Humour that has you both laughing is great, but humour at your child’s expense won’t help. Young children are easily hurt by parental ‘teasing’.