Study finds seven basic things you can do to manage your child’s bad behaviour. And it is based on positive parenting.

There’s no denying that kids misbehave. You could have the most placid child in the world and still, there will come a time when they will scream, shout or do something completely inappropriate.

The trick to managing your child’s behaviour when it comes to instances like tantrums lies both in the foundation we set and how we respond after something undesirable has happened. A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found seven effective discipline strategies that will change the way young children behave—for the better.

What is positive parenting?

The seven strategies are loosely based on a parenting style called positive parenting.

Positive parenting style, authoritative parenting style, permissive parenting style and more. Psychologist Collett Smart unpacks the many parenting styles in the video below.

“Positive parenting is an empathy-based approach that involves techniques such as encouragement and problem-solving—rather than shouting, hostility, shaming or leveraging rewards,” says Amy McCready in a CNBC article.

At its core, positive parenting strategies involve inspiring a child to better behaviour through positive reinforcements. It’s about developing an emotional connection and bond with your child, and using that to set boundaries for their behaviour.

Behaviour and child developmental stages

While a child behaving badly can be a difficult time, it’s important to remember that certain behaviours are actually linked to your child’s development.

For example, children start developing a sense of independence from around two years of age. This can often mean power struggles as kids choose to assert their new-found independence—most often felt when you go to a grocery store with them. Terrible twos, anyone?

Sometimes, a child’s bad behaviour may also be a consequence of an unmet need, such as being tired or hungry.

Whatever the reason may be for a child’s misbehaviour, the following strategies will help you develop positive relationships with your child, which will in turn promote positive outcomes.

7 positive ways to encourage good behaviour

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the following strategies are not only effective at addressing children’s undesirable behaviour, they also have a lower risk of negative impacts on children like yelling and smacking could. In fact, the evidence suggests these behaviour management strategies can:

  • improve children’s behaviour, problem-solving and social skills and emotional regulation 
  • decrease stress and mental health challenges for parents
  • improve the child-parent relationship

Note that the following strategies may not be suited for addressing challenging behaviour related to neurodiversity or disability.

1. Focus on warmth and affection

Children respond better to a parent who has developed a foundation of love, warmth and affection with the child. While discipline is necessary when a child misbehaves, this should not be delivered with anger.

The best way to develop positive interactions is through spending one-on-one time with your children. Psychologist Collett Smart explains how.

2. Be consistent

“When parents are consistent in their behaviour management strategies, children learn what to expect if they misbehave,” the Australian Institute of Family Studies study says.

This means responding to a child’s behaviour in similar ways as often as possible. Laughing off a bad behaviour but disciplining a child for the same thing the next time will send mixed messages and cause confusion.

3. Establish clear expectations and rules

Make sure your child knows what is expected of them and what the rules are. This is also where point #2 above should be applied so they clearly understand and learn what behaviour is appropriate.

If you tell them a certain behaviour will result in a particular consequence, be sure to go through with it. For example, if they’re meant to tidy up their toys after playing with them, don’t then turn around and clean them up yourself.

Make the rules age-appropriate, adapting and adjusting them as they get older.

4. Encourage and reward desired behaviour

The trick to managing your child’s behaviour is not to focus too much on when they behave badly. Instead, be generous with your praise when they do the right thing or make good choices.

This is not about giving them a tangible reward like a lolly or a trip to the playground for when they behave well (which can become unsustainable in the long run and cause them to focus on the “prize” and not the behaviour). Rather, heap praises on what they’ve done. So don’t just say “You’re so kind” but “You did a kind thing when you checked if your friend was okay”.

5. Utilise time-outs

Time-out should only be used for undesirable behaviour that the child can control (ie not for mistakes, being unable to perform a task or overwhelming emotions). It should be paired with strategies to teach children alternative desired behaviours and responses,” says the Australian Institute of Family Studies study.

“The time-out should immediately follow the undesirable behaviour, be consistently used by the parent, delivered calmly and with warmth, and be proportional to the child’s age and behaviour.”

6. Ensure consequences are logical

It’s important to teach children cause and effect; that every action comes with natural consequences. The consequence should be related and proportional to what they’ve done: Taking a toy away because they’ve played too roughly with it.

It should also be delivered calmly and in a non-violent manner.

7. Remember a child is not their behaviour

How a child behaves doesn’t reflect who they are. Children are still learning about appropriate behaviour and actions. When a tantrum or bad behaviour presents itself, see it as a teachable moment and not that your child is a problem.

Positive parenting techniques for positive behaviour

Positive discipline methods involve providing children with a loving and nurturing environment. Showering them with plenty of love—even when they misbehave—will give them the best start in life when it comes to behaving appropriately.

Some of the above strategies may work better for some families and children than others. Be open to trying different strategies or combining a variety to find out what best suits your situation.

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