Parenting is a challenge, especially when children and adolescents refuse to accept direction. When children break rules, behave defiantly, and oppose what adults ask of them, it creates stress for the entire family. However, there are steps parents can take to decrease unwanted acting out and increase healthy behaviors in their children.
When parents apply appropriate parenting behaviors they can help their children develop healthy and adaptive lifestyles, from infancy through adolescence and into adulthood. The key is to control consequences, consequences that can shape a child's behavior from a young age and provide a foundation for a variety of positive behaviors throughout their development.
Parents unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviors by giving positive attention to tantrums or by giving a child what they want when that child is being disrespectful or aggressive. While accommodating the disrespectful child may seem to calm them and to decrease stress, this strategy leads to an increased frequency of disrespectful behavior. The challenge for parents is to reinforce positive, not negative behaviors.
Effective parenting is always difficult. There is a tendency to react to a child's behavior out of frustration. However, doing so reinforces unwanted behavior and creates a cycle of negative interactions between the child and the parent. How does the parent encourage and motivate the child to behave in ways that lead to healthy, responsible, respectful and positive interpersonal relationships? The process begins when children are toddlers, as they began to explore their surroundings. Some of the child's behaviors are dangerous to themselves. At this stage of life children respond to limit setting, which is typically done to ensure their safety. Rather than using words like :"stop or don't", which are negative in tone, the parent can use positive language with toddlers such as " its time to sit down now". Or, "as soon as you can show me you are calm you can have that toy". Give the child the time after the instruction to respond. Avoid talking or engaging in other activities until the child has complied with the instructions to change the target behavior. If the child did not comply within five or 10 seconds, repeat the instruction using a slight variation in wording. Sometimes its important to say "now". ....."sit down now" or "sit down immediately" while guiding the child to her seat.
Logical consequences are central to behavioral management. Children are taught that life choices have logical consequences. When working with small children stay within 3 feet of them. When you're trying to correct their behavior, make sure your voice is firm and confident. Positive instructions such as "play calmly", "read to your brother now" rather than "stop hitting" or "stop jumping" are more helpful, because they give the child direction as to what you want them to do as opposed to what you want them to stop doing. Once the child engages in a positive behavior it is critical that you also praise him.