7 Ways Parents Encourage Bad Behavior in Kids

Bad table manners - boy eating pasta on fingers
Not correcting bad behavior like bad table manners is one way parents encourage behavior problems in kids. Cultura RM/Charles Gullung/Getty Images

What's that you say? You would never encourage bad behavior in your child? If you're doing any of the following, you might be doing just that. Children learn to behave badly, just as they learn to be nice and kind and well-mannered. Here are some common ways parents unwittingly encourage bad behavior in kids.

How Children Learn to Behave Badly From Parents

1. Not being consistent
You say no to that extra piece of candy. Your child throws a fit. You give your child that candy. You have now established in your child’s mind the clear message that throwing a fit will give him exactly what he wants, and what you say in one moment doesn't matter because you may change your mind.

2. Not following through
Have you ever seen a parent make empty threats? As in, "If you do that one more time, I'm going to [take away TV time; not take you to the ball game; not give you ice cream; etc.]," and then not follow through on the consequences, even though the child didn't do what the parent asked? If you're in the habit of doing this, your child is probably in the habit of not listening to you when you ask him to do something or not do something. Why should he? There are no consequences.

3. Excusing
He’s tired. He’s still young. He’s hungry. Sure, kids can’t be expected to be at their best 100 percent of the time—it’s not fair and it’s not possible. Kids do get hungry and tired and cranky, especially when they’re young and not yet skilled in expressing their emotions. Even older school-age kids can have their off moments. But if you’re making excuses for your child all the time, then Houston, we have a problem. 

4. Yelling
You may think that yelling will make it more likely that your child will hear you and obey, but like spanking (see #6), it's a short-term solution that not only loses effectiveness in the long run but can damage your relationship. Speaking to your child in a nice but firm way will get you better results, and will strengthen your parent-child bond.

5. Threatening
There's a difference between warning a child that there will be a consequence if he misbehaves (lose video game time if he hits his brother, for example) and threatening punishment. One fascinating study showed that when kids are threatened with punishment for lying, they are more likely to lie. And when you threaten without actual consequences (see #2: Not following through), then you give your child even less reason to do what he's asked.

6. Hitting
Research shows that corporal punishment leads to very undesirable outcomes in kids like increased aggression, decreased empathy, antisocial behavior, and diminished self-esteem, among others. Add to this the lack of long-term effectiveness (kids have been shown to become more defiant in the long run and the lesson they learn is how to avoid pain, not how to regulate their own behavior and learn how to want to make the right choices) makes corporal punishment a very ineffective long-term solution to any behavioral problem in kids.

7. Laughing or smiling at their behavior
Yes, it might be adorable when your child jumps up and down on the chair at a restaurant while singing his favorite song, or eats pasta off his fingers. But bad manners and poor etiquette aren't fun for those around you, and when you fail to stop bad behavior when you think it's funny, your child will continue to do what he feels like doing and may even try to be louder, and may be even more disruptive to get more laughs.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Building structure.

  2. Parent Help Line at HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Stop making excuses for your child's bad behavior.

  3. University of Pittsburgh. Yelling doesn't help, may harm adolescents, Pitt-led study says.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steps for giving directions.

  5. Talwar V, Arruda C, Yachison S. The effects of punishment and appeals for honesty on children's truth-telling behavior. J Exp Child Psychol. 2015;(130):209-17. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.011

  6. Psychology Today. Physical punishment - and violence.

  7. Durrant J, Ensom R. Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of researchCMAJ. 2012;184(12):1373–1377. doi:10.1503/cmaj.101314

  8. Business Insider. 10 old-fashioned manners kids aren't taught anymore.

  9. American Academy of Pediatricians. How to shape & manage your young child's behavior.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.