Rude children are often acting without thinking.

How to Explain & Reduce Anti-Social Behavior in a Child

by Damon Verial

Anti-social behavior is normal in children for a variety of reasons, including the lack of an adult brain and a misunderstanding of what rules are. Thus, as a parent, you must start from that context: explaining the rules in a way a child can understand. After your child gains a strong understanding of the problem, you can use control strategies to alleviate anti-social behavior.

Expound the problem. Adopt a non-blaming attitude and bring the problem to your child’s attention. Realize it is possible that your child simply does not know he is being anti-social. So, explain to him the concept of rules, why rules are important, and why they should be followed. As you do so, use terms he would connect with, speaking from his point of view. For example, instead of pointing out how society needs rules to properly function, put the focus on your child’s individual circumstances, saying something like, “The rules we have are to protect you. Our rules say to not steal because we don’t want anyone to take your toys or school books or even shoes. If we didn’t have these rules, anyone could take anything from you, and that wouldn’t feel good, would it?” From this standpoint, you can point out the rules your child is breaking, making the situation more salient in his mind.

Elicit information about your child’s peers. Ask your child questions about who he plays with and how they play together. Because anti-social behavior always happens in a social context, your child is likely learning these behaviors from others or falling prey to peer pressure. Researcher of bullying, Edward Dragan, wrote in his book “The Bully Action Guide” that anti-social conduct is contagious among children. He suggests parents intervene from afar as a way to protect their children from falling prey to this disease. So moms and dads should get involved as soon as possible. Find out what you can about your child’s peers. If you find that some of his peers are bad influences, explain to him that he should not copy that peer. Instead, he should separate right from wrong and follow the rules. And if the situation calls for it, encourage him to stand up for others instead of letting his peer mistreat other peers.

Make yourself available. Enhance the bonds between you and your child so that he feels comfortable talking openly about social situations. When listening, do only that: listen. Don’t say your piece until your child is done speaking. This way, you show him that his comments and experiences are welcome. When you talk, talk with respect. Don’t put the blame on the personality of your child, using phrases like, “You’re a rude child” or “You’re a troublemaker.” Instead, focus on the action itself, separating the behavior from the child’s persona. Opt for phrases such as, “Calling names is a rude thing to do” and “Throwing books on the ground makes trouble for your teacher.”

Review the rules and limits. Set new limitations if you have not discussed the problem before. Ensure that your limits are clear, using phrases such as “Pick up all your toys after you finish playing” instead of “don’t be messy.” Set corresponding consequences for breaking the rules, but don’t make them violent punishments. The removal of privileges is all right; spanking is not. Ask your child to summarize the rule and consequences to ensure he’s internalized them.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.

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