Guiding your child’s behavior

Try using these simple strategies to help your children learn to understand rules and limits, and work on controlling their own behaviors.

Getting kids to listen can be one of the hardest part of being a parent. Children will inevitably push limits or break rules as part of their process of learning to understand rules and how to control their own behaviors. Michigan State University Extension has some tips on how to communicate with your child to help guide their behavior.

Tell children what they can do instead of what they can’t. If you child is constantly hearing “No,” “Stop,” “Don’t do that,” it can be easy for them to get discouraged or frustrated, or just tune you out. Try telling your child what they can do instead.

If your child is using scissors inappropriately, instead of saying, “Don’t do that,” tell them how to use the scissors appropriately, “We use scissors to cut paper.”

Tell children what you need them to do. Don’t phrase your needs as requests—don’t ask a question if your child doesn’t’ actually get to decide the answer. For instance, instead of saying, “Will you hold my hand please, we are going to cross the street,” try “I need you to hold my hand, we are going to cross the street now.”

If you need a child to immediately stop a behavior, you can tell them without yelling. Try saying, “Stop sign” or “Stop your body.” Once you have their attention, tell them what you need them to do instead.

Set limits and stick to them. When your child does something that is not appropriate, tell them what the inappropriate behavior is, why it is not OK and what you need them to do instead. “Running in the house is not OK because you could get hurt or something could break. I need you to walk in the house.”

If something is off limits or unavailable to a child, you can say, “That is not a choice right now, what choice will you make instead?”

Give them choices to change a behavior. If your child is misbehaving, help them practice changing their behavior by giving them an opportunity to make a different choice for themselves. “I see you are choosing to throw your ball in the house. You can make a different choice with the ball or you can choose to play with something else.”

If your child does not make a choice to change their behavior, you can make it for them. Say “If you choose to continue throwing the ball, I will help you make another choice,” (take the ball away, move them to a different room to play, etc.).

Using these phrases can help you manage your child’s behavior, but simply saying them will not solve the problem. In order to guide child behavior, your children need to you to be present and engaged. You may have to stop what you are doing, physically assist the child and repeat yourself over and over again. Through repetition and consistency, children can learn to remember and respect limits.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2015 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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