Angel or Devil Child?

Keeping your child’s behavior on an even keel.

We all know parents, or maybe we are such a parent, with children who behave perfectly outside the home. These same children tend to constantly fight with their parents, even though the teacher praises the kids for wonderful behavior at school. This type of scenario stirs up mixed feelings. Although you are proud of your child for good behavior, you are frustrated by how rarely it is exhibited when you are in your child’s presence.

Sure, you know there is inconsistency in terms of your children’s behavior. However, you may be unsure of the specific factors that are contributing to undesirable behavior. The following six pointers prompt children to maintain good demeanor in all settings, starting at home.

  1. Give consistent rules. Parents sometimes find it easier to submit to their kids’ whims than to enforce rules, but children need to understand that there are clear boundaries and limitations. At school, children quickly learn that the rules are non-negotiable. This is why they stop testing the limits. Parents can do the same thing at home. It’s most effective when you involve your children in the rule-making process. You can ask your kids, “What do the rules in our home need to be so that everyone remains happy and safe?”
  2. Provide a clear and important purpose. Children must feel needed. When a child is given a job, even something as simple as being asked to make one’s bed in the morning, it makes the child feel worthwhile and competent. Let your kids know how they can help you. Keeping children busy ensures they stay out of trouble.
  3. Follow a routine. Are routines really necessary for children? Yes! Routines involve repetition. Repetition involves predictability. Predictability involves stability. Stability involves security. Kids crave routines as they make children feel safe and secure. Without them, parents and children are left feeling overwhelmed because they never know what’s going to happen. When children don’t know what to expect, they become anxious, angry and/or fearful. When they know what to expect, kids feel calm and relaxed.
  4. Have age-appropriate behavioral expectations. To do this, you must have an understanding of child development and age-appropriateness. For example, it is difficult for many toddlers to eat out in restaurants. This is developmentally appropriate. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that parents can do in a restaurant that might support a toddler’s ability to sit through a meal. Yet, this does mean is that some toddlers simply cannot sit still for longer than a few minutes and there is nothing that you can do about it, except be patient until the child develops further.
  5. Show mutual respect. Children listen more when they feel that although you are enforcing limitations, you respect them. Children don’t have to fear adults in order to respect them. In fact, they will respect you most when they feel respect is reciprocal. Be firm with your kids, but make sure you are also friendly.
  6. Exhibit positive language. Instead of using commands that start with “don’t,” “stop” or “no,” learn to rephrase directions in a positive way while clearly stating the desired behavior. For instance, instead of saying, “Don’t put your feet on the table,” try saying, “Put your feet on the floor.” When children hear these trigger words, they instinctively feel like they are being overpowered and that they need to try to establish their independence.

If All Else Fails...

Despite following these guidelines, children may still misbehave. When your child acts out, here is what you can do to encourage more appropriate action.

  • Validate your child’s feelings. Let your child know that you understand how he or she is feeling. As you want your kids to be empathetic, what better way to make this happen than to show them some understanding? Even though you get how your children are feeling, this doesn’t mean that you give in to their demands. You want to accept their emotions while placing limits on behavior. This teaches kids how to cope. It also lets them know that their feelings are always acceptable, whereas how a person deals with feelings has boundaries. Try saying something like: “I know that you are angry. You can be angry but you cannot throw hard objects. Let’s think about what else you can do to make you not feel angry anymore.”
  • Invite children to participate in personal behavior management. Children will be much less defiant if they feel like they have the ability to control their behavior. However, there are times when it is clear that children cannot employ self-control. If a child misbehaves, instead of jumping in and telling the child what he has to do, you can ask, “When you run too close to the street, what do you think can happen? Where do you think is a safe area to play?” Or, “Instead of pushing your brother, how else can you get him to move over?” Children have the potential to change their behavior if you ask them to think about what they could have done differently. Giving them this opportunity empowers kids as well as boosts self-esteem.
  • Manage your own feelings. To support your child’s development, you have to be able to manage your feelings. You must offer a calm presence by putting aside your personal distress. You can’t think clearly when you’re stressed.