Helping Children to Quit Inappropriate Behaviors

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The concept of helping a child is a fundamental one.  Parents, teachers, and other adults who are in charge of correcting a child should look for ways to help a child to behave according to their expectations or requirements.   We adults need to ask ourselves, "How can I help him (or her)?," as opposed to forcing or scaring a child to behave.   It is not necessary to instill fear in children;s hearts to get them to behave.  In fact, it is harmful.  So, let's help children to quit inappropriate behaviors.  
Very few children intentionally act inappropriately.  Generally, children regret their "bad" behaviors, feel "bad" about acting that way, and with each repetition of a  misbehavior, label themselves as "bad" kids.   However, that doesn't stop them from repeating the same behavior.  When we adults see a misbehavior repeated, we view it as a deliberate behavior on the part of a child.    

 At times, such misbehavior occurs on the spur of the moment.  At other times, it occurs out of anger, fear, malice, or some other emotional trigger.  Some children repeat misbehaviors because they have gotten away with them for a long time.  Others have gotten used to having their way.   Nevertheless, At any rate, all children need help to break the pattern of inappropriate behavior.  The good news is that there are many behavioral methods to decrease inappropriate behaviors.  These methods are quite humane and do not involve physical punishment or any other harsh measure.

 Before we discuss specific behavioral methods, here are a few general guidelines to ensure that parents get good results out of these methods:

1.  Avoid physical punishment altogether or use it minimally.  In an earlier article, I have cited studies which conclude that spanking makes children aggressive.  However, if you are a parent who believes that physical punishment must be administered, then administer only minor  and controlled punishment.

2.  Be calm and in control of yourself, when you are administering behavioral methods or when discussing matters related to a child's behavior.  A parent who is angry, hurt, or out of control,  is not in the right state of mind to correct a child.  How can an undisciplined adult teach discipline to a child?  So, when you are going to use a behavioral method, first check your own "temperature".  Are you "cool" or are you "hot"?  If you are hot, you are not ready, yet.  Excuse yourself for a few minutes.  Use those few minutes to calm yourself.  Go to another room or outside the house.  Do your deep breathing, or counting backwards from ten to one, or simply counting your breaths.  When you're back in the driver's seat, proceed with the matter on hand with your child.  

3.  Offer positive attention to your child.  The only time some parents pay attention to their children is when there is a problem.  As long as children are quiet, playing, watching, TV, doing their homework, some parents would hardly talk to them all day.  That is an example of negative attention.   A child learns to seek attention by acting inappropriately and compelling a parent to respond.  To avoid that, spend one-on-one time with your child, routinely.  Allow your child to earn extra time, or an outing, or special activity at home with you for behaving well.  Make a point to praise good behaviors.   Do not let the punishment or negative attention become the primary source of attention

4.  Be careful not to reward inappropriate behavior.  Parents may unintentionally reward inappropriate behavior.  For example, one day, you are feeling sorry for your son for something bad that happened.  So you take him out.  Your son wants to have anther soft drink, which, by the way, is the fifth one that afternoon.  You say, "No," quite understandably.  He gets upset and starts demanding and fussing.  Since you are feeling sorry for him that day, you say, " All right!  I will let you have it now, but don't make it a habit."  Notice what happened here?  You just accidentally rewarded an inappropriate behavior.  That is a most frequent and common error, we parents make.  We reward inappropriate behavior because we are feeling sorry, tired, too preoccupied with something else, or simply can't stand the whining, the crying, and the carrying on.   But the problem is that each time, we reward an inappropriate behavior, the stronger it gets for the next time.  

5.  Review and analyze the cause when your behavioral method doesn't work.  There has to be a reason when a behavioral method doesn't work.  The method may have been used only part of the time, that is, may have been used sometime and other times, not.  A parent may not have tried long enough to see the results.  The method may have been used incorrectly, that is,  some important details and follow-up of the method may have been left out.  

 In the next article, we will discuss the specific behavioral methods to decrease inappropriate behaviors.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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