Many of our parenting strategies are based on how we ourselves were raised – we either raise our kids like our parents did or choose to raise them differently than how we were raised. That said, how you respond to your child’s behavior can either reduce or reinforce it. Reacting negatively to that behavior can cause harm in the childhood years and beyond.
Below are 11 ways you make your child’s behavior worse and what you can do improve how you communicate
Did you know that the words you use to describe your child can become self-fulfilling prophecies? In other words, your child tends to act in line with what he believes is expected of him. If you keep telling him he is annoying, can never keep still, is too anxious, clumsy, a scaredy-cat, too slow, etc. he will tend to act in ways that confirm that description. In the same way, if you tell him that he is interesting, curious, persistent, or creative, his behavior will be in line with how he is described.
The impact of labeling on children’s behavior was first studied scientifically by Rosenthal and Jacobson. At the beginning of the study, all the students in an elementary school took an IQ test. The researchers then randomly selected approximately 20 percent of these students and presented them as “intellectual bloomers.” At the end of the study, the students took another IQ test which showed that the students who had been presented as “intellectual bloomers” had significantly higher scores during the second phase of the IQ test. While their results have remained inconclusive and difficult to replicate, they helped show that labels have an impact on how people are perceived. In the study, the students presented as “intellectual bloomers” received closer attention from their teachers who were more attentive to their needs.
These studies gave rise to what is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect. This phenomenon suggests that positive expectations lead to positive outcomes, and negative expectations lead to negative ones (Golem effect).
The Pygmalion effect shows that the words you choose to describe your child affect how she behaves. These words shape her personality and also have an impact on the kind of relationship you develop with her, well beyond the childhood years.
What You Can Do to Change Your Child’s Behavior
There’s always a better to describe your child’s behavior. It’s always nicer to hear positive things about us. When you focus on your kid’s positive traits, you communicate what you think about them—scatterbrain or creative, nosy or inquisitive, shy or mindful.
Remember that how you describe your child also has an influence on how others perceive him. Shyness can be perceived as a handicap, but it can also be perceived as a strength. If you keep describing this trait as a handicap, others will too.
Using positive labels does not mean ignoring bad behavior. Your little bully is not a “born leader”, nor is your disrespectful kid “confident.” Positive labels should not be used as a tool to avoid dealing with behavioral issues.
Replacing negative labels with positive ones will ultimately change how you view your kid, her behavior, and how you react to it. Next time you’re about to describe her as “stubborn,” switch that to “knows what she wants” and see how it changes everything.
2) Teasing and humiliation
Discipline is not supposed to humiliate your child. Several studies have found that ridiculing your child and using humiliation can lead to psychological issues such as depression.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids are not always able to tell what is “harmless teasing”. Repeated teasing can thus lead to self-esteem issues and school-related problems such as lack of concentration.
How to manage child behavior problems at home
Just like with the example above, you can change your kid’s behavior by changing how you view that behavior. Choosing positive words to describe her behavior can help modify your child’s behavior.
Positive reinforcement is also a powerful behavior modification tool. It involves ignoring bad behavior and focusing on your child’s positive behavior. This reinforcement can be in the form of compliments, high-fives, increase video-game time, etc., but several factors must be taken into account to make it effective
Remember that humiliating your child is likely to lead to future psychological problems and to a negative parent-child relationship.
3) Downplaying emotions
Your child’s behavior is driven by emotions. His inability to deal with difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety, frustration or fear is often translated in behavior such as aggressiveness, back talk, hyperactivity, clinginess, and so on. Downplaying or invalidating your kids’ emotions does not make them go away. Instead, it gives rise to other negative emotions associated with specific behavior.
For instance, downplaying your child’s fear of swimming could lead to the development of other negative emotions such as shame. In other words, feelings of fear and shame could arise every time your child has to go swimming.
How to get your child to behave better
Emotions drive behavior, and the first step to dealing with your child’s behavior is to help her understand about the different emotions, how those emotions feel in the body, and how she can deal with those emotions by herself. Increasing your child’s emotional intelligence will not happen overnight. You need to think of it as a long-term strategy that doesn’t necessary bear fruits in the short term. Don’t forget that there are now age-appropriate tools which can help you navigate the conversation about emotions with you child.
The older generation believed in the power of lecturing to get kids to behave. We now know that lecturing doesn’t work. Your child will not behave better simply because you keep repeating the same thing over and over again. Lecturing will not help you deal with difficult child behavior. Lecturing will only lead you to be perceived as a nag.
How to control your child’s bad behavior
Instead of lecturing your child, make him responsible for his actions and decisions. This means that your child should be aware of what is expected of him, and what the consequences of his misbehavior will be. When you consistently apply consequences to misbehavior, you no longer need to use lectures as an attempt to put an end to difficult behavior.
As children grow older, involving them in the decision-making process can help better deal with your child’s behavior. Science shows that the more your child feels that he has been involved in the decision making process, the more he is likely to perceive the consequences as just. You could say something like “Your homework needs to be done by 6pm. What to we do if it’s not done by then? Better still “When is a fair time to have your homework finished? What to we do if it’s not done by then?”
Yelling might get your kid’s attention, but not in the way you think. It’s not always easy to raise kids without yelling but this habit is disrespectful, harmful, and makes us feel like terrible parents. The thing is, for all the harm it does, yelling has surprisingly little effect on your child’s behavior.
If you’re a yeller, you’ve probably noticed that you keep yelling about the same things, and the behavior you’re yelling about tends to get worse, not better. Research seems to support these views. One study found that yelling and strict punishments:
• increase rather than decrease bad behavior,
• can lead to antisocial behavior,
• have similar effects to physical discipline,
• lead to lower self-esteem, higher aggressiveness and more depression among kids who are frequently yelled at.
How to understand and manage your child’s behavior
To stop yelling and start communicating more effectively, it is important to understand why you yell. Monitoring when and why you yell can help you get over the yelling or at least learn to yell less.
Adopting simple strategies can help you adopt a more positive family communication pattern.
Get serious about yelling less. Implement a “real plan” to help you yell less.
6) Using emotional abuse
Emotional abuse is so common, we don’t always realize when we’re doing it. It involves things like yelling, silent treatment, comparing your kid unfavorably to other kids (siblings or classmates), being dominating, etc.
Emotional abuse often involves the use of words or actions that make you kid feel worthless and invisible. Parents who use emotional abuse often believe they are keeping their kids “under control”. What they actually do is create invisible scars that time doesn’t always heal.
How you can improve your child’s behavior
While it might be tempting to use certain strategies such as silent treatment, it is important to remember that wounds inflicted in childhood are among the hardest to heal. They can follow your child relentlessly, lurking in the shadows and affecting her entire adult life.
The easiest way through which to avoid emotional abuse is by applying the golden rule: how would you feel if someone treated you the way you treat your child?
Instead of focusing on your child’s misbehavior, focus on solutions: what do you expect from her next time (in a similar situation)? What are the consequences associated with that (mis)behavior?
7) Not listening
Your child’s explanations for his behavior are not always convincing, but if he feels you’re not listening to what is said (and what is left unsaid), the misbehavior is unlikely to stop. Listening also means being attentive to your non-verbal communication – eye contact, touch, nod of the head, etc.
Simple ways to improve your child’s behavior
Connecting with your child on a physical and emotional level goes a long way in helping deal with misbehavior. This also helps build trust and reinforces the parent-child relationship. Simple ways to connect involve touching your kid and looking him in the eye when you’re speaking to him about his behavior.
Remember that to change your child’s behavior, you must first understand the reasons behind that behavior
8) Flattery and bribes
Why don’t bribes work? Because they teach your kid to repeat the behavior they are being bribed for.
Why doesn’t flattery work? Because your child can begin to believe that insufficient effort or mediocrity is acceptable, or to associate praise with failure.
Flattery and bribes make your child’s behavior worse. This is what you can do instead:
Make use of positive reinforcement by focusing on good behavior and ignoring bad behavior. It goes without saying that behavior that risks harming your child or those around him should never be ignored.
Remember that the feedback you give your child has a large impact on his behavior. In other words, the language you use can either work toward or against the development of a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck, making your child responsible for his behavior “what do you think you can do to…” helps instill a growth mindset. The “This is what it takes to raise a successful adult” digital download can give you the resources you need to foster the development of a growth mindset in your child.
9) No clear expectations
When you punish certain behavior today and ignore it tomorrow, you send mixed signals to your child. You cannot deal with your child’s behavior problems if you haven’t defined what “bad behavior” means. Also, you cannot improve her behavior if she doesn’t know what is expected of her and what the consequences of specific misbehavior are.
How to correct your child’s bad behavior
Correcting your child’s behavior requires you to be clear about what you define as “misbehavior”
• When is her behavior out of control?
• What do you define as acceptable behavior?
• What is inacceptable child behavior?
Once you are aware of what is unacceptable behavior, clear consequences for that behavior makes it easier to deal with it. But clear consequences also mean being consistent for that specific behavior.
Defining what is acceptable and inacceptable behavior also means being willing to cut your kid some slack. Not everything is a big deal, and we were all children once.
10) Making it about you
Kids seem to have mastered the art of driving us up the wall, but here’s the thing: your child’s behavior is rarely about you. He often reacts to his environment in very different ways, and these reactions are often reflected in his behavior.
How to improve your child’s behavior
Your reaction will be different depending on how you perceive your child’s behavior. You will react differently if you think your kid is “out to get you” than you would if you considered that her behavior is driven by emotions or is normal behavior for a child. Instead of thinking that your child is “out to get you”, remember that children’s behavior is not always an attempt to undermine your authority.
Do not react to your child’s behavior in the heat of the moment. Take a few deep breaths, leave the room, wash your hands, mentally repeat “I’m calm! I’m calm! I’m calm”, count backwards from twenty to 1, and so on before you respond.
Reacting to your kid with violence teaches her fear. It also teachers her that violence is an acceptable way to react when we are unhappy with others. The available evidence has found a link between kids whose parents use aggression and violence and bullying. These kids are more likely to be bullies themselves or to accept bullying as normal behavior and they are also more likely to struggle with self-esteem issues. Violence has also been associated with behavioral and psychological problems, even beyond the childhood years.
A recent study analyzed whether or not punitive environments had an impact on the lie-telling behavior of 3- and 4-year old kids.The experimenter placed a toy behind a child then explained that she had to leave the room. The instructions given were “Don’t turn round to peek and look at the toy when I am gone”. The child’s behavior was recorded using a hidden camera.
After one minute, the experimenter came back and asked whether or not the kid had turned around to look at the toy. The study found that kids raised in punitive environments were more dishonest and used more elaborate lies to conceal their dishonesty.
This conclusion confirmed earlier studies that found that children raised in punitive environments were likely to develop deception to avoid punishment, even for minor transgressions.
How to change your child’s behavior
Punitive environments destroy kids’ sense of worth and can even destroy their lives. Most parents who use punitive environments do so because they haven’t discovered effective mindful discipline strategies. Get informed about other ways you can discipline your child. Remember that discipline is not about punishment.
Are you struggling with your kid’s discipline issues? With the right tools, you can establish an effective discipline approach and transform your relationship with your child.
The Mindful Discipline Email Course is a self-paced course that will help you transform how you view your child’s discipline issues.
This course is for you if:
- You’re totally overwhelmed by your child’s behavior
- You no longer know what to do to get your child to listen and act appropriately
- You’re tired of the back talk and disrespect
- You no longer know what to do to discipline your child
- You’re tired of repeating the same thing over and over again
- You don’t want to go on yelling at your kids to get the behavior you want