Sometimes as parents we just can’t help it. Your toddler body slams the dog, the 2-year-old swears like daddy or your teen sings a very risqué song with the radio and you laugh to yourself. But, your child caught it and they think, that you think, they are funny… so BAM! They start doing it again and again and again. That is one of the many ways parents reinforce negative behavior in their children. While there are ways of fixing it after the fact, it is always better to try and prevent the reinforcement in the first place. Less stress for you; less stress for your kids.

To figure out strategies you can use to prevent reinforcing negative behavior and having to discipline your kids, we should look at the reasons your child is exhibiting the negative behavior. Here are the most common reasons kids do bad things:

Kids want your attention, so they act out hoping to get it.

      This doesn’t just happen when you are watching television or reading a book. It happens when you are trying to get dinner on the table or talking to your child’s doctor on the phone. Your child knows the button to push to frustrate you and when they want attention you can bet it is going to be pushed. But when you stop what you are doing, you are reinforcing the behavior and they will continue to try and get your attention this way. I have found the best way to handle this type of attention-seeking behavior is to use a 1-2-3- Magic philosophy. Remember to remain calm and use a tone that is not charged with anger or frustration. You will also want to remember to that your child will get to the Magic Time Out stage – possibly more than once. Keep consistent, it will work.

Kids are not motivated to do the right thing.

      It is sometimes very easy to skip doing your homework, especially of the teacher doesn’t check it the next day. This can go on and on until the end of the semester when all of those missed homework papers are due. Children are not motivated by future rewards/consequences. They need daily checks on things like homework to remain motivated. If you find your child in this type of situation, set up a chart for them and do the checks yourself. It won’t take long before they are handing you the finished work before you even ask for it.

Kids see no reason not to do something bad. When kids constantly get away with doing something, there is really no reason for them not to keep doing it. Bullies are like this. The only thing that can be done is to begin giving consequences and following through with them. Remember to be sure that the consequences are important to the child and you are consistent in giving them every time the behavior happens. Another instance of this type of negative behavior is when a child is rewarded to stop doing what they are doing – like when they are throwing a tantrum in order to get a treat and the parent gives the treat to stop the tantrum. It is pretty simple on paper to overcome this behavior – stop rewarding the tantrums. It is harder to do this in real life, but worth very minute of the time and effort.

Kids, especially preteens and teens, want to emulate their idols.
As older kids start trying on different identities, they will exhibit behaviors that you may not appreciate. Yes, you need to foster independence with your preteens and teens. No, you do not have to put up with negative behaviors. Set a consequence and follow through.

If you find that you are running into negative behaviors from your child that don’t fall into any of the examples above, know that you can talk to your child about why they are doing what they are doing and you may get a few hints on how to handle it. Mostly, being clear with them and telling them you do not want to see that behavior anymore will begin to help.

Please share your thoughts, experiences and advice in the comments area below.