12 ways to get the best behaviour from your kids

How children behave is a direct result of what they experience - mainly with us.

If we talk to them politely and show that we are trying to understand them, our children can feel valued and will develop self-respect. Their view of themselves is formed from the way others view and treat them.

Happy children are well-behaved children.

But it’s important to remember that no parent is perfect and we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves when we make mistakes. If we can try and be ‘good enough’ parents for most of the time, (apologising when necessary), and our kids feel like we’re on their side, they will be well-set up for life.

1. Praise, praise, and praise some more!

It’s surprisingly hard to remember to notice and comment on what our child is doing well, or what they are trying hard at. But it’s a very important habit to get into. Make it your mission to notice the ‘little’ things. It will boost their self-esteem and help you both to bond. And try and be specific.

  • “Well done for getting a sticker at school! Tell me how you got it.”
  • “I really like the way you used yellows, oranges and red in your sunset picture.”
  • “I noticed how patient you were in the shop while we were waiting in the queue. Thank you.”

Praise motivates children to do more great things. Criticism demotivates children from trying.

2. Give support rather than criticism

We all want our kids to be the best they can be… and it can be so tempting to tell them what they did wasn’t quite right, their clothes don’t match, or just comment on the mistakes while they were reading to you, etc. (after all, that’s what we got when we were kids!).

But criticism is destructive. It eats away at our children’s self-esteem and generally makes them feel ‘not good enough.’

If we praise them for their efforts and suggest what we want them to do, instead of what they didn’t do, it’s more helpful.

For example, “Thanks for wiping the table- you’ve done a lovely job. Could you just check the corner over there?" This is nicer than, ‘You haven’t done it properly.’

Remember also to pick your battles - If they show you a story they’ve written with ten mistakes in it, praise the story and just pick one mistake to correct, ignoring the rest; it keeps their motivation and confidence intact.

3. If you feel disappointed, make sure it’s with the behaviour and not the child

If they’ve spilt some food on the table whilst eating, it’s more helpful to say, “please eat over your plate,” rather than, ‘you’re so messy! Look at the mess on the table you’ve made!’ The latter statement is a shaming, negative label, making it harder for a child to feel able to change.

4. Show empathy: Try looking at things from their point of view

None of us like it if people judge us, saying things like, “Well why did you do that?!” or “You must have done something wrong for them to do that to you!”
Our kids feel the same, and we can model for them how to behave in the world.
Showing that we understand their feelings is so good for developing the bond between you both, and gives them great social skills.

For example,

  • “I can hear how disappointed you are that you didn’t win the prize. You tried really hard.”
  • “You look sad. Can I do anything to help?”
  • “I’d be angry too, if that happened to me.”

5. Be polite and respectful to them. Always!

Hearing the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ make our children feel worthwhile as people. And we will find our children say it back… after a while.

Talk to your kids as if you would talk to anyone else. You’re not entitled to be disrespectful to them because they happen to be your own children.

6. Listen carefully and with full attention

If our children are talking to us and we stop what we’re doing to listen, we are giving them the message that what they say is important to us. We don’t always need to respond with advice or a clever comment; sometimes a sympathetic, “mmm,” or ‘oh...’ is enough.

7. Give ‘consequences’, if necessary, but don’t ‘punish.’

If you’ve asked the kids to put your favourite pens back in the box when they’ve finished, it makes sense that if they ignore you and leave your stuff out, they’re not allowed to borrow them again for a while. That’s a consequence and it helps them to learn to be responsible.

But if we dish out a punishment that’s unrelated to the misdemeanour, such as banning them from their iPod for a week if they didn’t do a chore, or banning them from their favourite trip out, it can just seem spiteful and unreasonable. That might damage the bond they have with you and escalate any angry behaviour. 

8. Be trustworthy and reliable

Our children feel happy when they feel secure and safe. We can help with this by doing the things we say we’re going to do and not allowing them to feel stressed unnecessarily. Knowing we are there when they need us is the foundation from which they can develop trusting relationships with others throughout their lives.

9. Act confidently

Our kids like it when we feel confident in ourselves. So even if you don’t feel it, bluff! Children feel secure when they feel safely in the hands of a parent/carer who seems ‘kind’, ‘strong,’ ‘fair’, and capable of looking after them. You’re also providing a good confident role model for them.

10. Boundaries

Children can’t keep within the rules if they don’t know what the rules are. It can seem confusing for them if they get told off and didn’t know they’d even broken a ‘rule’.
Some families find it fun to get together and create the ‘house rules’ together. You could give out invitations to a family meeting, writing down everyone’s rule suggestions down, (appreciating everyone’s contribution, however funny it may seem), and then refine them down to a list of rules that you all think are fair.

11. Avoid comparing them with other children

When we tell our children about another child’s/ sibling’s achievements, or make comparisons, they can often feel as if we favour the other child’s qualities more. It can unwittingly make them feel bad about themselves, and doesn’t motivate them to behave differently. So NEVER say things like, “look at your brother/ sister, they’ve done it!” It’s shaming, and sets the children up to resent each other.

12. Talk to your children as if they are the children you want them to be

Children see themselves in the way they think we see them.
We can create opportunities for them to feel successful, and see themselves differently. It’s the easiest way to help change behaviour for the better. So:

  • If your child hasn’t got the best manners, prompt them to say ‘please/thank you’, and then tell them how polite they are.
  • If they are shy, tell them how impressed you are at how they talked to the people in the shop.
  • If they are being inconsiderate, tell them how kind and good at sharing they usually are. It really does work!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8
Written by Ruth Murtagh, Relationship Therapy-Couples/ Individuals: MA,MBACP, Relate
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8

Ruth Murtagh is a relationship and parenting counsellor based in the Leeds area. She also runs sessions on skype or phone.

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