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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


The Secrets To Improving Children's Behavior

By Michael Grose

Most parents at some stage are driven to distraction by one or more of their children's annoying habits or behaviors, whether it is a toddler who continually whines, a school-aged child who leaves clothes lying around or a teenager who uses a less than pleasant vocabulary.

How to affect change is a challenge for many parents. Do you ignore a child's annoying behavior or do you pick up on it? A useful rule of thumb is to pick up on behaviors that are dangerous to the child himself or significantly infringe on the rights and comfort of others.

Also ask yourself: Is this behavior reasonable for the child's age? For instance, it is reasonable to expect an eight year old not to disturb you while you are on the phone for twenty minutes but it is not reasonable to expect the same of a two year old.

It is also useful to take into account the child's current state of mind and what is going in on their lives that may be related to some unusual behavior to occur at home.

The following four principles for changing your child's behavior will be effective if you are both patient and persistent.

Principle 1:
Change your initial response first. This is important because children's behavior generally requires a pay-off, which may be your attention or an attempt to defeat you. The most important principle about changing children's behavior is to change your own behavior first. So if your child' whines (a child's version of water torture) to get his own way refrain from answering back or giving in.

Principle 2:
Practice with your child the behavior that you want. The notion of behavior rehearsal is fundamental to learning a new behavior. Don't just tell kids what you expect, get them to practice the behavior you want. In the example of a young whiner - get him to practice asking for help or a treat in a normal voice.

Principle 3:
Minimize the behavior you don't want. That means when children continue their old behavior despite your brilliant suggestions ignore it, sidestep it or implement a consequence but don't nag or harp on it. Remember it takes time often to change a behavior, particularly if it has been happening for a long time.

Principle 4:
Spotlight the appropriate behavior. When your children behave in the desired way show your sincere appreciation. We often take children for granted or rather we are trained to give children no attention when they are good, but plenty when they are less than perfect. The behaviors we focus on expand so we need to focus our attention on desirable behaviors more than on the negative behaviors. For our young whiner it is essential to make a fuss when he uses a normal voice to get what he wants.

Like any process it will only work if you stick to it and follow it through. And don't be afraid to adapt it to suit your circumstances. Remember, it is the fact that you have a plan rather than the nature of the plan that is most powerful in achieving a change in your children's behavior.


Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print. For further ideas to help you raise happy children and resilient teenagers visit While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids newsletter and receive a free report Seven ways to beat sibling rivalry.

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