Parenting Strategies to Improve Your Child's Behavior

Mother scolding girl, hand on hip, pointing finger
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All children will encounter episodes of bad behavior. Some more frequently and severely, and others less. Try to nip these behavioral issues in the bud before they become a problem. Using these three tried-and-true parenting strategies will improve your child's behavior and reduce the frequency and severity of any behavioral problem.

1. Relationship

A loving and stable relationship between parents and children is the foundation for a child's healthy social development. Tell your child you love them and show your love by taking the time to listen, to play and to teach. The parent-child relationship is built on the words you say and the tone of your voice. It is strengthened by the laughter you share and the games you play together. It is forever bonded by the values and skills you pass on to your child every day.

2. Planning

Planning is the secret of good parenting. Watch your expectations so that you plan for good behavior, rather than dread the bad. Most behavior problems occur during times of transition and adjustment. Since childhood is by nature a continual process of transition and adjustment to rapid development, it's easy to see why bad behavior is such a natural reaction to the challenges a child doesn't yet have the skills to overcome.

Planning involves knowing your child, their temperament and skills, and knowing the challenges of their environment. Use direct instruction, guidance and practice opportunities to teach the skills your child will need to cope with new challenges in the journey of childhood.

3. Response

Attentiveness and response are the key tools for improving your child's behavior. An understanding of behavior modification principles will help you plan your responses to improve behavior. It all comes down to actions and consequences. When a child's actions earn positive reinforcement, it will be repeated over time. When an action elicits punishment, it will eventually be extinguished.

Children learn to make the connection between an action and its consequence when the reinforcement or punishment is immediate and logically related to the action. Parents don't always have to provide the consequence. In fact, most consequences occur naturally. Parents can help make the connection by talking to the child about what they did and why it lead to a certain consequence.

But, as parents, our responses to our child's actions are powerful consequences, either rewarding or punishing. Either way, it shapes the child's behavior. In the context of a positive parent-child relationship, your approval or disapproval is usually enough of a response to reinforce or punish a behavior. When more intensive rewards or punishments are needed, parents should choose those that work for their family.

The key is to attend to your child's attitude, moods, and behavior; and then to respond to both good and bad behavior quickly. Learn to recognize when bad behavior is being reinforced, or when good behavior is being extinguished, and adjust the consequences to turning it around. This requires that we be attentive to our child and make the correct response.