3 Steps to Completely Changing Your Kids Behavior

mother-and-sonWritten by: Calvalyn Day, MsED

As a family coach, I’d say the number one topic I’m asked about daily is kid’s behavior.

When I was a working in schools, it wasn’t much different, with classroom teachers and administrators all sending the kids who were cutting up in class to my office.

I understand of course, there are few things more frustrating than whining, bickering or disrespect from a child, and parents are right to want kids to have good self-control and be obedient.

But typically, when parents ask me about behavior, they are usually asking me what punishments should be used to get kids back in line. I usually surprise them, since I don’t push punishment as a front line response to unwanted behaviors.

Don’t gasp. Hear me out.

In my book, there’s a big difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment isn’t as effective as you’d think it should be at correcting behaviors and it can undermine your relationship and WEAR YOU OUT.

Discipline, on the other hand, is the process of teaching and modeling appropriate behaviors, and it works well. By incorporating a few key strategies, you can take the sting out of misbehavior and teach better ones at the same time.

Set clear, achievable expectations. When my kids were younger, and we’d be ready to go out, I’d start by reminding the kids about what I expect to see. At times, when I knew the activity was something that they weren’t likely to enjoy, I’d prep with extra filler activities, books or the like, but either way I set achievable goals. One of the common mistakes I see parents make is expecting kids to not be kids. Giving vague directions or having unrealistic expectations set a negative tone and at best get you inconsistent results.

Not long ago, a friend of mine said she warned her 4-year-old that they would not be going to the store as she had planned because he was being naughty. He politely told her that he wasn’t being naughty, he was just being a boy! Now she kept a straight face, but it was a good illustration of how kids don’t connect with what we are saying. Clear expectations sound like, “when we enter the store we walk and use our inside voice”, give a better idea of what you want to happen. With older kids I might say, “When you see your great aunts and uncles make sure you say hello”. Expectations help everyone, just keep them reasonable and clear.

Recognize good behavior, with specific praise. Good job. You were really nice. Nothing wrong with those compliments, but they don’t really tell kids what they did right. I love to hear parents praising kids, and I’m one of those people who at the grocery store, will compliment your child for being helpful or listening well to mommy. Kids love attention, and unfortunately, they’ll take the good or the bad. The more you recognize good things, the more good things will happen, for you to recognize.

But the type of recognition you give matters. When done well, you show kids the exact behavior that you want to see more of, and you get the pleasure of not having to ride your kids backs constantly. This helps to strengthen your relationship and increase your child’s positive attention from you. Parents who are overly punitive, giving constant warnings or consequences, exhaust themselves and either overreact or become inconsistent. Praising good things makes everyone feel good.

Offer a do over. Look, kids aren’t perfect. Not toddlers, not tweens, not teens, none of them. While I don’t love admitting it, I’m not perfect either. None of us really like confrontation or being corrected, no matter how much a part of life that it is. Punishing every mistake or bad choices teaches kids to hide mistakes and failures from you. Instead, teach your kids to check their own behavior by letting them have a do over.

When I am faced with a kid who’s sassing me, or a child who has not followed my instruction, I simply say, “Try that again.” They then have a chance to think about what they have done, and how they can correct it. Many times kids, especially teens, know what they have said the wrong thing the second it comes out of their mouths. But I’ve seen many kids ride a bad statement like a bicycle because they want to save face. Give them the easy out and avoid the power struggle, by identifying a mistake in a way that lets them show they can fix it. It also works well for young kids who might actually need a refresher lesson and aren’t attempting to be disrespectful. Offering a little grace, teaches your children how to treat others which is a bonus lesson. Happy Parenting!


Calvalyn specializes in individual and group counseling strategies with children and teens, parent coaching, and educational consulting.  Calvalyn is a passionate advocate for families with special needs and can consult with you via phone or Skype. To learn more about Calvalyn’s services and how she can meet your family’s needs, email Calvalyn at cgday@thewellcounselinggroup.com or call her at the office at 317-471-8996.