If you’re a caregiver in need of helpful tips and techniques to teach your child to behave acceptably, you’re in luck! First and foremost, you have to know that the word “acceptable” is arbitrary. One way of behavior may be acceptable to one family, but not another. This article will not define what is acceptable or appropriate behavior and what is not, however it will provide a few general techniques to TEACH your child to behave in a way that’s appropriate for your family. With this in consideration, keep reading to find out a few guidance techniques. Enjoy!
1. Use a Relaxed Voice
One great way to teach your child to behave is to use a relaxed and calming voice when telling them what is acceptable and unacceptable; children respond well to easy tones. However, the main reason to keep your voice calm is in case of emergency, when you’d need to use a more urgent tone. If you always use an urgent voice, the children will get accustomed to it, which will make it more difficult to gain their attention in an emergency situation.
2. Be Positive
Another way to teach children acceptable behavior is to be positive. Try telling you child what she should be doing rather than what she shouldn’t. For example, instead of “Quit screaming,” or “Don’t touch anything,” try saying, “Use your indoor voice,” or “Put your hands in your pockets.” It takes a lot more thought and effort to do that, but it’ll teach your children what to do, and it doesn’t force them to figure it out based off of what you told them not to do.
3. Offer Choices
Many people make the mistake of offering their children choices when they don’t mean to. For example, if it’s bed time and you say “Do you want to go up to bed now?” when you really mean, “It’s time for bed,” you’ve just given your child the option to say “no.” When giving directions, be clear that the matter is not up for discussion. When giving choices, provide the options and follow through with their choice. For example, if you give them the option to watch television or play their games, and they choose, don’t try to convince them of one or the other. By doing that, you’re letting them know that it really wasn’t a choice, which can be confusing. Offering your child choices can be tricky, but it’s a great technique when you’ve got it down.
4. Use Natural or Artificial Consequences
Natural consequences are results that naturally occur following a behavior. If Jane doesn’t want to wear her earmuffs, then naturally her ears will get cold. Artificial consequences are results that are put into place by the parent to show what’ll happen when the child breaks the rules. If Jane doesn’t clean her room, then by order of Mommy, she can’t watch television for a week. Natural and Artificial consequences are very effective with many children, however, it’s important to never use these techniques when your child’s safety is at risk, such as a child running into the street or playing with broken glass.
5. Use I-Messages
Another great technique to teach your child to behave and to communicate your feelings is to use I-messages and communicate the appropriate behavior. An I-message statement acknowledges the child’s behavior, your feelings about that behavior, and the effects of that behavior. According to child specialist Judy Herr, I-messages show the child how others perceive his or her actions. Here’s an example I-message: “When I see you hitting Jessica, I feel unhappy because you’re hurting her. I want you to apologize and I want you to stop hitting her.”
6. Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a simple and amazing technique that is sometimes overlooked. When you see your child exhibiting an acceptable behavior that you want to see again, acknowledge it. They’re very likely to exhibit that behavior again. If Lily picks up her toys without being asked say, “Thanks so much for cleaning up, Lily. You’re a big help.” If you do, that won’t be the last time Lily helps out!
Finally, there’s modeling. Children learn a lot of appropriate and even inappropriate behavior by imitation. If you want to teach your children acceptable behavior, try behaving the way you want them to in front of them, and avoid exhibiting unacceptable behavior. If you want Penny to eat at the table, you should eat at the table. If you don’t want her to curse, you shouldn’t curse…at least not in front of her. It’s important to be a model for how you want your children to behave, especially in the early years when they don’t understand the difference between what’s acceptable for adults and what’s acceptable for children.
Children learn quickly, and many are receptive to these types of techniques. Try a few at home and see how they work for your child. Which techniques do you think would have the most success for your children? If you have any other method you’d like to share, please do!
Sources: Herr, J. (1998). Working with young children. Tinley Park, IL: The Goodheart-Willcox Company, Inc.