Negative behaviors are a part of growing up. Kids test limits, struggle for independence and sometimes get locked in power struggles with their parents. It is easy for both kids and parents to become overwhelmed, but changing negative behaviors need not be difficult for either side. Focus on the positive rather than engaging in battles for control.
It is unreasonable to expect a practiced behavior to disappear overnight. Instead, work on reducing the frequency of the behavior with the ultimate goal of stopping it altogether. Ensure that the desired behavior is within the child’s developmental capacity, and focus on changing one behavior at a time. Set short term goals that help the child practice the new behavior.
Working With Strengths
Everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses. Prime your child for success by encouraging her to use her strengths in replacing the negative behavior. For example, a child with social anxiety may be emotionally unable to sit and talk with strangers over a long dinner. If she is a talented artist, encourage her to quietly work on a new drawing rather than acting out during the meal.
Encouraging Positive Behaviors
Parents can reward positive behaviors in a variety of ways. A simple reward system gives the child immediate positive feedback after he performs a desired behavior. Tell the child clearly what you expect and what he will earn. For example, if he cleans his room, he might earn 30 minutes of television time. Older children often respond well to a behavior chart system, in which positive behaviors earn stickers to be redeemed for larger rewards at a later time.
Redirection, Time Out and Consequences
Some negative behaviors, particularly those that are dangerous, need to stop instantly. The Children’s Physician Network defines redirection as helping the child change focus to another activity. Rather than fight about what the child is doing wrong, verbally guide her toward something else. Time-out physically removes the child from the situation. According to HealthyChildren.org, the time-out spot should be boring and free from distractions, such as a chair. Implement a time limit, such as one minute for every year of the child’s age, and set a timer. At the end of the time-out, tell your child that you love her and help her get back to normal activities.
Sometimes children need consequences for negative behaviors. HealthyChildren.org points out that natural consequences occur as a direct result of the child’s behavior, while logical consequences are those that you impose in direct response to the behavior. For example, running out of gas is a natural consequence for a teen who does not fill the gas tank, while grounding is a logical consequence for using the car without permission.