Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

How to Improve Behavior Without Punishing

Sometimes it seems like our children are constantly fighting us. Everything leads to a tantrum and they won’t follow directions to save their lives. You might be wondering what else to try to manage this behavior besides yelling and punishment. Here are a few strategies for improving behavior by connecting and teaching.

  1. Set up routines and rules to eliminate power struggles. Consistency is crucial for kids because it helps them feel safe and know what to expect next. If they know bedtime is always at 7:30 pm, they are less likely to be mad at you for making them go to bed because that is always the rule.
  2. Connect first. Connection is crucial in parenting because until children feel connected, they won’t want to do what you say. This connection doesn’t have to take long, it can be a simple moment. For example, one morning a friend’s daughter protested every step while getting ready for school, so they paused what they were doing to make silly faces and laugh together, and all of a sudden the little girl was willing to get ready with no problem.
  3. Handle transitions with care.  Moving from one activity to another (e.g. play to dinner) can be quite difficult for some children. Do what you can to warn the child the transition is coming and guide them through it.
  4. Acknowledge when your child is behaving appropriately. If your child is playing nicely with her sibling, praise her for it! Children crave parents’ attention, whether it is positive or negative attention. Effective praise and other rewards are very motivating to young children.
  5. Cut the number of commands you give. Imagine if someone were telling you what to do every minute of every day. It would feel pretty restrictive, right? Children often feel this way and may need you to give them a little flexibility. Try saving commands for things that are more important or necessary and your child is likely to choose to comply.
  6. Simplify what you say. Young children can’t understand complex sentences, so lecturing is pretty ineffective. Try using short phrases, such as “Ask nicely” instead of a long explanation (“You can’t hit. When you want a toy you need to ask your friend nicely”).
  7. Model appropriate behavior. Children want to be just like mom and dad. They will follow in your footsteps however you choose to manage your negative emotions. Ask yourself, am I teaching my children to yell and swear, or to take deep breaths and go for a walk until they calm down?

Though our discipline habits might be pretty different from these suggestions, according to The AAP policy statement, research shows that forms of physical punishment, yelling, and shaming are less effective in correcting a child’s behavior. Applying the tips shared above may take more time and effort than spanking or taking away toys, but they may be more effective in strengthening your relationship and teaching your child the correct way to behave.

Additional Resources on Discipline:

How to Increase Your Child’s Skill in Following Directions

How to Discipline a Toddler

Peaceful Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child

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