Child Behavior Management, by Jennifer Gibson, Psy. D.

Finding ways to effectively manage our children’s behavior as parents these days can be very challenging.  Although building a family is an ever-changing exercise, the basic principles of behavioral learning and behavior change remain the same.

The following principles, when followed consistently, are both creative and effective in managing children’s behavior.
Predict problem situations and prepare for them.

Giving your child information about an upcoming situation can help a child begin to prepare themselves for it.  State rules ahead of time, and offer rewards for good deeds.  For example, if you know it is difficult for your child to sit quietly, first review the rules for the setting or situation and then offer a reward for following the rules.

Give praise and rewards for positive behavior whenever you see it.

Praise not only encourages children to continue positive behavior, it also gives them feedback and helps them learn expected behavior.  Find opportunities to praise your child’s behavior, even for small things to impact on their behavior in a positive way.

Ignore insignificant behaviors and pick your battles.  Although it can be difficult, ignoring annoying behaviors can be effective as the child does not receive the attention they may be trying to draw to themselves.  They will quickly learn to do alternate behaviors of which they have learned they receive attention from you.  Along the same lines, choosing to not engage in a battle over something less significant –such as choosing to wear a different pair of shoes– can decrease the intensity and attention from the situation.

Save your energy for bigger battles and keep your relationship with your child as positive as you can.

Choices and limits.

Choices create greater self-control and less dependence on others, and help the child develop a sense of confidence and mastery.  Choices are given once a parent has decided first what the choices are.  This ensures that the choice chosen by the child is an appropriate one and already approved by you (unbeknownst to the child).  Limits also contribute to a child’s sense of security, as they learn the parameters of situations, greater predictability, and how to navigate their world to meet their needs.

Whatever happens, reinforce the good and against the bad

et’s say your child throws their shoes across the floor after they remove them each time they come inside the house.

You say, “Put your shoes (where they belong),” and you yourself put them in the right place.<

Here, your child received attention (talking) and the negative behavior reinforced, as you put the shoes away).

Next time you come home and your child throws his/her shoes across the room, you say, “Put your shoes where they belong and you can choose your snack.”  In this instance, the child is rewarded or constructive behavior, increasing the likelihood he/she will repeat it.  If he/she chooses not to comply, they lose the reward, helping to reinforce positive behavior next time.

Be consistent.

Consistency is a key element in creating behavior change.  Once a clear plan of for good behaviors and consequence for bad is developed, follow it every time.  Make sure your babysitters and caregivers are on board, as children will test you and they may give you a real hard push before they stop.

Within a couple of weeks you’ll start to see real change in your child’s behavior.

Be realistic.

Ideally, combining effective behavioral principles with your parenting style and family values will lead to the greatest success and will foster positive feelings in you as a parent and subsequently, in your child.

Have special time.

It has been shown that spending about an hour of one-on-one time directed by your child each week can contribute to a more positive relationship between you and your child.  This small commitment once a week can make a huge difference, especially when you are having particular challenges with your child’s behavior or your child seems to be having greater difficulty.

A final note on consequences.

View consequences not simple as punishment, but as an opportunity teach your child. When giving a consequence, keep it clear, simple, follow through on it, and deliver it matter-of-fact.  Too much explaining or emotions lessen the effect.

As a psychologist when working with families, I typically encourage parents to think of a hierarchy in terms of consequences, structured from less harsh to more severe action.  A counting intervention, such as 1, 2, 3, time out is one example, where 1, 2 are chances to correct behavior and 3 is a time out.  More severe behaviors would go right to 3, time out.  At first, you may feel that 2 chances for correcting behavior are not acceptable.   Over time, you should see your child make better choices and not need more than one chance to alter his/her behavior.

Last but not least-take care of yourself.

Just as your child needs a certain amount of sleep each night to reenergize for the next day, you need a certain amount of time for yourself so that you can re-parentize!  Self-care will help you be more effective as a parent and lead to greater fulfillment, which in turn positively impacts your child.

Sometimes it can be tricky tailoring an approach, or your child may have unique needs. It may be helpful to talk with a professional for additional support.    A professional is more one who specializes in child and adolescent behavior.

Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist