Ways to Prevent Behavior Problems Before They Start

Prevent your child from misbehaving.
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One of the best discipline techniques is prevention. If you can prevent behavior problems before they start, you’ll end up with a much happier family. Preventing behavior problems does require some extra time and effort; however, it can be a worthwhile investment that can save you time in the long run.

Develop a Healthy Relationship

If you don’t have a healthy relationship with your child, your child is much less likely to be motivated to behave. Just like most adults are usually motivated to work harder for a boss they like and respect, kids will be much more likely to follow your rules if they feel loved and respected.

Provide plenty of positive attention. Give your child your undivided attention for at least a few minutes each day.

Play games, have fun and create memories. The stronger your relationship, the more motivated your child will become to listen to your rules. 

Make the Rules Clear

Kids can’t follow the rules if they aren’t sure what your expectations are. Create a written list of household rules and display them prominently in your home.

Explain the rules when you enter into new situations. For example, say, "You need to whisper in the library," or "There's no running when we're visiting Grandma in the hospital."  

Explain the Consequences Ahead of Time

Once you’ve explained the rules, tell your child what will happen if he breaks the rules. Your child will be less likely to challenge the rules or test limits if he knows how you’re going to respond.

Say, "If you yell or run around in the store, you're going to have to go out to the car for a time-out," or "If you can't sit in your chair at the table in the restaurant, we'll leave early."

Provide Structure and a Schedule

Create a schedule for your child that outlines when he should do his homework, when he needs to complete his chores, and when he can have free time. When kids get used to the structure, they’re much more likely to respond positively.

Praise Good Behavior

Catch your child being good. Offer praise liberally. Praise your child’s efforts and offer praise whenever you see behaviors that you want to see repeated.

When your child is playing quietly, point it out. Or when he puts his dishes in the sink, make it clear that you appreciate it. 

Work as a Team With Other Caregivers

Although the rules don’t need to be exactly the same in all settings, it helps when a child’s caregivers are consistent. Work together with your partner, your child’s babysitter, or teachers to discuss discipline strategies and behaviors that need to be addressed.

Teach Your Child About Feelings

When kids have an understanding of their feelings, they’re more likely to gain control of their behavior. Teach your child anger management skills and specific skills for dealing with uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness, frustration, and disappointment. 

Teach Impulse Control

When kids can control their impulses, they are less likely to react aggressively or defiantly. Teach your child impulse control skills with various games and discipline strategies.

When kids develop impulse control, their social lives improve and they tend to perform better academically.

So start practicing delayed gratification and give your child the skills she needs to manage her verbal and physical impulses better.

Create a Reward System

Identify a behavior you want to see more often, like "doing chores," or "keeping chores to yourself." Then, establish a reward system that will motivate your child to stay on track.

Young children respond well to sticker charts and older kids respond well to token economy systems. Your child will become more motivated to follow the rules and he'll earn new skills.

Plan Ahead

Be proactive in preventing behavior problems by planning ahead. Identify potential problems before they start.

For example, if you know your child is likely to fight with his brother over who gets to use the video game first, set up a clear system. Tell them that they can take turns and anyone who argues or fights loses his turn. When you stay one step ahead, you can prevent a lot of behavior problems.

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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.