Managing Children’s Behavior


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


As parents, we all expect some level of obedience from our kids. When we yell, "Stop, don't run into the street," we expect our child to obey. If we tell our child to brush her teeth and get ready for bed, we hope she'll do it without whining, arguments or too many complaints.

Too often, though, it's a struggle to get kids to behave properly without a fight. The "do it because I said so" method that so many parents resort to is usually ineffective. Overpowering the child only challenges the child to resist, leaving her undisciplined and the parent frustrated.

Fortunately, there are methods to manage children's behavior without ugly confrontations, tears, temper tantrums, yelling, tongue lashings or spankings. This article covers 13 child compliance techniques that can help both you and your child obtain desirable goals.

By using these methods, you'll learn to move your child smoothly through daily routines and manage your child at home and in public situations. This will benefit not only you, but your child as well: Well-disciplined children feel respected and competent because they gain skills to manage themselves. They feel proud of themselves for complying rather than humiliated from being yelled at and forced to obey.

START EARLY AND YOUNG - Keep in mind that, during the preschool years, children can most easily learn the routines and discipline of certain necessary life skills, including acceptable behavior. Take advantage of your young child's receptiveness; it pays off later.

These first two compliance techniques are useful in all situations. Learn them first, and then try them in a variety of contexts. You'll be amazed just how effective they prove to be.

STAY POSITIVE - Notice and describe what your child is doing correctly at that moment. Then make a request or guide her on to the next activity. This approach gives the child credit for what she's already accomplished. Then, like magic, the child will most likely comply with the next request.

"You got out of your car seat all by yourself, good for you. Now please hold my hand in the parking lot." "You ate all of your apple sauce; now try a bite of cheese." "You're all dressed for school; it's time to grab your backpack and lunch box."

USE PROXIMITY CONTROL - When you make a request, move toward the child and touch him gently. Somehow your closeness has a way of almost guaranteeing your child will comply: You're right there ready to back up your words with an action. You want your child to set the table. Yelling a command from the other end of the house just isn't effective. Go to your child, make your request then walk together to the kitchen.

A sibling fight is brewing. Don't yell at the pair to stop. Instead, quietly move toward them. Often your calm presence is enough to settle your children. Uttering a forceful "no" or isolating your child with a time-out procedure are often ineffective when seeking compliance. You might achieve greater success by adding these techniques to your disciplinary repertoire.

Public displays of misbehavior are embarrassing to you and annoying to the people witnessing your disruptive child. Telling your child to settle down, while well-intentioned, usually doesn't improve behavior.

PREPARE YOUR CHILD - Before any new situation, such as going on an airplane or attending Grandma's birthday party, describe the event, and give two realistic expectations regarding your child's behavior. "On the airplane you'll need to sit in your chair with a seat belt on. We'll read, eat, play games."  "When we go to Grandma's birthday party tomorrow, I expect that you won't run around. You'll sit and watch Grandma open her presents."

HELP YOUR CHILD LOOK AHEAD - Children don't look ahead to the next event--they live in the moment and therefore have trouble making a smooth transition from one situation to the next. It helps to prepare them with a five-minute warning and then look to the next event. "You had fun playing at Jayme's today. In five minutes we'll get into the car, drive by the fire station and go to the grocery store." When leaving, if your child protests, pick him up, put him in the car and leave as promised.

STAY AWAY FROM TROUBLESPOTS - If going to the grocery store causes problems, go when your spouse or neighbor can watch your child. A month's respite from taking your child to the grocery store breaks the negative cycle, giving you and your child the opportunity to develop a new routine.

MOVE YOUR CHILD ELSEWHERE - When your child is out of control, simply remove him from the situation. If you're at a restaurant, the mall or library and your child becomes antsy or throws a tantrum, pick your child up and leave. Going outside or moving to a quiet portion of the building often quiets the child. Stay with your child until calm, then return to eating, shopping or checking out books.

Getting dressed, brushing teeth, getting out the door for child care or school, cleaning up toys and getting into bed--all are complex yet important daily events. You want your child to move through each successfully. Keep each transition positive. Negative elements, such as yelling, can quickly become embedded in any routine.

GUIDE THEM THROUGH EACH STEP – Recognize how many steps are involved in each routine. Getting out the door has at least four: putting on shoes, going to the bathroom, finding the child's backpack and putting on a coat. At first, physically guide your child through each step of a daily routine. Later, just watch: "I can't put your coat on for you but I'll watch you do it."

OFFER REMINDERS - Children distract easily--realize it's your job to remind them of tasks as they move from one segment of a routine to the next. If your child forgets to go potty, offer a friendly "potty time" prompt. A one-word reminder is all it takes to keep the routine moving along.

GIVE CLEAR COMMANDS - Rather than say, "Clean up your room," be more specific: "Put the blocks in the blue container, the books on the shelf and the dolls in their beds." The clearer you are, the easier it is for your child to comply.

EXPLAIN AND DEMONSTRATE - As you and your child are brushing your teeth, use stream-of-consciousness explanations to show what you're doing and why. "See, I'm covering all my teeth with the toothpaste, I want to remove all the bugs that live there. Now I'm going to rinse, gargle and spit. Let's do it together."

Managing children’s behavior is in reality, managing your own behavior. My years working in Protective Service taught me that frustrated or angry parents are parents who have chosen to be controlled by their child/children. When children are able to control the color of their parents face, the words that come out of their parents mouth, and/ the attitude the parent displays, Mom and/or Dad are no longer the leader of the child. And, in fact, the Parent will have lost the child’s or children’s respect. I like to compare this concept with the idea that, just as God would not be respected if we could control Him, so the Parent is no longer respected when the child can control him or her.

The key to effective child management is to use the suggestions presented in this article to behave in a manner that will influence your child. If you child chooses to behave in ways that are contrary to what you teach you will need the assistance of family, friends, the church, the school, professionals, and in severe cases, the law.

Work hard to do your part. This increases the likely hood that you child will learn and choose to behave appropriately.