Dealing with Misbehaviour in Children aged four to
misbehaviour from children can be quite a challenge to any parent, and while there is never one right way to
respond that works for every parent and every child, three are a number of principles that can help. Below we
list some ‘Positive Discipline’ principles that focus on encouraging children to behave well while dealing
calmly, firmly and positively with misbehaviour. The overall aim is to help parents maintain a good and
satisfying relationship with their children while teaching them right from wrong and the skills of behaving
Good Discipline is about a Good Relationship
There is no magic about good discipline. It’s basis
is a good, open and positive relationship between you and your child. Often when children misbehave the
parent child relationship can be put under strain, so it is really important to take steps to build this up
again. There are a lot of enjoyable ways this can be done.
Set aside special time
with your child.
For younger children this can be 15 or 20 minutes,
daily of special playtime, where you make a special effort to play with your child doing things you both
enjoy, ideally letting the child choose. For older children it could be a trip to the park or a special
conversation before bedtime.
Spend time actively listening to your
It can really help to find times where you can sit
and really listen to your child, hearing about what they think and feel, really trying to understand them.
This can make a real difference to your relationship.
Encourage Wanted Behaviour
Catch your child being
Rather than noticing bad behaviour, really go out of
your way to notice the times your child behaves well. Remember what you pay attention to will happen more
Use clear genuine
Rather than saying vague statements like ‘Good boy’,
use very clear and genuine statements of praise each time your child behaves well, such as ‘I’m pleased you
came in when I asked’ or ‘Thanks for cleaning your room’. Make sure your child knows exactly what you are
Be clear about what behaviour you
Rather than saying ‘Don’t run in the shop’, say
‘Please keep by my side when we are in the shop’. Saying what you want, is more positive, gives children
clear ideas on how to behave and is thus more likely to succeed.
Even when you have to say ‘No’
to a child, you can always give him other positive options. For example, ‘No you can’t play with the
computer, but why don’t you play with your new skittles’ or ‘No you can’t go over to Steve’s now but you will
be able to go out after dinner.’
Encourage steps in the right
Don’t just wait for perfect behaviour before you
notice it, especially in the beginning encourage any small examples of good behaviour you see. For example
‘Mary I’m glad to see you get out your books to start your homework’.
Good behaviour can also be encouraged using simple
rewards. E.g. ‘John Because you tidied up quickly we have time for an extra story’ or ‘When you do your homework then you can watch TV’.
Thinking about situations in advance can do a lot to
avoid and reduce potential conflicts. For example making sure your child has brought some entertaining
activities on a long train journey or planning a positive way for him to be involved in a shopping trip,
could avoid tantrums and frustration.
Good clear routines around bedtime, mealtimes,
homework etc, which make it clear
about what is happening and
what is expected can really avoid problems. Sit down and plan the routines you want to build up in your
family. Remember children can take a while to settle into new routines.
In the long term it is best to talk problems through
with children and help them find more positive ways of behaving. This is best done away from a conflict
situation when everyone is calm. Remember when talking things through it is best to listen to the child
first, going slowly to understand their point of view and feelings before helping them think of other ways of
Many parents inadvertently encourage misbehaviour by
giving it attention e.g. giving out, shouting, nagging etc. Simply by ignoring a lot of misbehaviour will
disappear or reduce in severity. Rather than correcting your child’s whining, simply pay it no attention and
let it go over your head. Or rather than acting as a referee when your children squabble, simply pull back
and let them sort it out themselves.
Use choices and
Rather than nagging children when they misbehave,
give them a choice about a consequence. For example ‘Either you clean your toys away now or they will be
taken off you for the day - it’s your choice’ or ‘Either you come in now for tea or you will miss your
favourite TV programme tonight’.
If you do give a child a consequence to a rule, be
prepared to enforce it. When they know you won’t give in, the problems will reduce.
All discipline problems are best managed in a firm
but calm way. It is very tempting to get upset or have a go at a child but this doesn’t work and leaves
parent and child upset. If you feel yourself getting angry it may be best to withdraw, calm down, and then
deal with the situation: ‘I’m too upset to talk about what happened, I will deal with you later about
kind to yourself as a parent
Though very effective, positive
discipline is hard work. You need to be positive and consistent for a long time. It’s hard to do this if you
feel tired or low. That’s why it is very important for parents to be kind to themselves and to look their own
needs. It is important to find activities you can enjoy or relaxing, or to make sure you keep in touch with
good friends and family. Basically by looking after yourself you are looking after your child. The more
relaxed and refreshed you feel the more calm positive and consistent you will
Dr John Sharry
- Help Me To Parent Ltd