Being a parent can be stressful. Balancing a job, school, and family schedules is a lot — and if your child is exhibiting difficult behaviors, parenting can become more a chore than a pleasure.
Still, it doesn't have to be this way. Try these simple approaches that teachers use to guide students in the classroom, and you and your child will look forward to spending time together again.
Understanding Positive Behavior Management
You may be surprised to learn that most behavior management is actually preventive in nature — that is, it keeps things like yelling, whining, or tattling from emerging in the first place. Of course, even the best behavior management techniques don’t work 100 percent of the time, but if you practice them with regularity, they are largely effective.
Below is a list of seven positive behavior management strategies that you can implement at home to make your family’s life easier — and build on your child's school experiences, as well.
1. Create a consistent home environment.
The number one parenting technique that will affect your child's behavior is consistency. This means that, ideally, everyone in your family shares the same expectations about household schedules, rules, and rewards. Kids thrive on predictable routines, and while this doesn't mean that every second of every day has to be the same over time, it’s important to carry out the actions you promised — and this is as true for giving rewards as it is for enforcing rules. If you have told your child you will take her to the playground when she finishes her homework, then you need to stick to this agreement. Similarly, if you have established the routine that your child reads a book or chapter before she plays a video game, then don’t enforce this sometimes but not others. Your child counts on you to structure her world, and knowing that you are reliable will make her calmer and more trusting.
Teachers are typically consistent with their established daily routines, so mirroring this expectation across all of your child's environments will help her learn to self-regulate.
2. Ignore negative behaviors.
It's not always possible to overlook negative behavior (particularly if there is a potential safety issue), but to the greatest extent possible, redirect your child to a positive activity or action. For example, if your child is screaming at you, try responding with, "I can't understand you when you're screaming, but when you are ready to use your regular voice, I’ll be more than happy to listen to what you have to say." This is a more respectful manner of interacting with her than screaming back or isolating her. If you treat your child with respect and expect it in return, you model the behavior you want her to use when she engages with others — and in the process, you support her social-emotional learning.
3. Reward positive steps.
Sometimes parents say that it’s difficult to find things to praise their child for, but doing so is like any habit — you get better with practice. Even if you have to keep a tally on your cell phone, a good goal is to give your child three or four instances of praise for each negative remark. This positive reinforcement can be as simple as, "Thanks for putting your jacket on," or "I appreciate you placing your dish in the sink." These all add up!
I’ve also heard parents ask, "Why should I reward Sammy for doing what she should be doing in the first place?" But kids learn from being told and shown what to do, rather than from being scolded for doing the wrong thing. Praise is a great motivator; let your child know what you like about her behavior, and don’t comment on the negative aspects. For example, compare these alternatives:
- "I'm really proud of you for working so hard on your homework." vs. "Why didn't you start your homework sooner?"
- "Here is some paper so you can color." vs. "Stop drawing on the wall!"
- "You can't bounce the ball in the house, but you can take it outside and play after dinner." vs. "No bouncing the ball in the house!"
These strategies are based on a set of approaches developed by the U.S. Department of Education, called Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), in which educators teach children constructive skills to solve conflicts or problems. The benefit of these practices is that learners develop proactive abilities that often preempt behavioral problems. Most K–12 schools follow these or similar behavioral strategies, so ask your child's teachers for some specific techniques that they have used successfully (and don't forget to share yours, too!).
4. Create the rules together.
Kids of nearly any age can take part in this activity, and it can actually be fun. Children are much more likely to remember and follow rules that they have an active role in creating. As a parent, you can always guide them toward those that you know are essential. Set aside some time with your child to create a handful of rules, write them down on a poster, and post the list in a location in your home where everyone can see them. And don't be surprised if you too get reminded of the rules when you break one!
Many educators create classroom rules with their students during the first week of school, so talk to your child's teacher about what they developed together, and which ones your child is particularly good (and not so good) at following.
5. Give your child a job (or two).
Jobs not only help children develop responsibility and experience a sense of accomplishment, but these tasks can also be a great way to motivate kids to work harder. Give your child one job, and ask her to choose a second. Create a chart together to track the completion of her work, and determine the reward for doing the jobs daily or weekly. Again, I’m often asked, "Why should I reward Jimmy for helping out around the house?" But would you work at your job for free?
Each time your child completes her job, she can put a sticker on the chart and keep track of her own progress. If she doesn't do the job, she doesn't get a sticker. It doesn't have to be a big deal. A simple statement — "The job didn't get done today, so I can't give you a sticker for your chart. Let's try again tomorrow." — can also provide a learning experience about failing and trying again.
Children usually have jobs at school, and they love "helping the teacher.” If your child is having a difficult time with her job at home, try brainstorming with her teacher about different tasks that might be considered "helping mom or dad,” just as your child probably helps out in the classroom.
6. Spend one-on-one time together.
This is especially important if you have more than one child at home. Quite often, children act out to get attention, so by giving each child one-on-one time — even if it's just a few minutes reading a book or working on homework together — you can short-circuit that attention-seeking, negative behavior.
Children don't typically get this type of time with their teachers, moreover, so the individual attention at home with you is even more precious.
7. Listen to your child, and acknowledge her feelings.
As busy as you are, it many not always be easy to listen to your child, especially if she is whining about her sister stealing her toy again. Still, it’s very effective to pause and get on your child's physical level, acknowledge her feelings (“Wow, you sound really angry/upset/sad!”), and help her come up with a solution of her own rather than doing it for her. She may require some role-modeling at first, but she will feel relieved that you understand her feelings — and empowered by being able to address conflicts on her own.
A child who can problem-solve independently will become successful at managing many types of social situations at school. Try talking to her teacher about any social-emotional curricula or problem-solving strategies the school uses that may complement what you are doing at home.
Children who attend school are learning many things. How to be a part of a group — whether this is a family, school, or wider community — is one of the most important lessons. By using positive behavior strategies at home, you can reinforce your child’s emotional and academic growth. And you get to enjoy the decrease in whining, tattling, and tantrums that comes with positive behavior management.