Good Kids, Bad Behavior

by: Jonathan Brush, Ph.D., M.D.
Find out the dos and don'ts for handling hallmark discipline problems and learn how to prevent bad behavior in the future.

In this article, you will find:

Under Five Years Old

Good Kids, Bad Behavior

Learn the do's and don'ts for handling common discipline problems, and find out how to prevent bad behavior in the future.

6 to 18 Months
While playing together, your baby suddenly bites your arm. What do you do?

1. Don't bite back. Many parents think this will teach the baby not to bite, but babies don't understand that their biting causes you pain and vice-versa. The only result is that you both hurt, and your relationship will suffer.

1. Pull the baby away and firmly say, "No biting. Biting hurts."
2. Show alternative behavior such as hugging.
3. Give babies who are teething something soft to bite.

Babies babble, scream, hit, cry, and bite to communicate their needs. They touch and explore to learn about their bodies and the environment, not to hurt or willfully disobey. We need to limit behavior which is dangerous or hurts others, but not in a way which frightens or harms the baby. Our goal is to help our babies show their feelings without hurting themselves or others.

1. Watch for signals and learn to tell when your baby is overexcited or upset.
2. Show babies how to express their needs in different ways, such as clapping or laughing.
3. Be consistent in your responses.

Ages 2 to 3
Kicking and screaming, your child throws a tantrum on the floor of the toy store because you won't buy the toy she wants. What do you do?

1. Don't try to reason with your toddler. Children cannot listen during a tantrum.
2. Don't lose your temper, because this will frighten your child and set a bad example.
3. Don't give in to your child, because this rewards bad behavior and encourages tantrums.
4. Don't bribe your child with a candy or other treats. He may start demanding such bribes to behave.

1. Stay calm and don't worry about what others think.
2. Ignore the fuss. Give your child as little attention as possible.
3. Hold your child, if necessary, to prevent injury or damage to property.
4. Leave the store if the tantrum continues.
5. When your child is calm, explain that you will leave the store whenever she throws a tantrum.
6. Reward good behavior by spending some special time together as soon afterwards as possible.

We've all heard of the "terrible twos" as a time when children become defiant and unmanageable. This may be how it seems at times, but children need to go through this stage. They need to discover their own strengths, to separate themselves from their parents, and to learn self-control. We can teach our children to behave properly by rewarding good behavior, ignoring provocative behavior, and preventing them from injuring themselves or others.

1. Before entering the store, describe the behavior you expect and the consequences of misbehavior.
2. Feel secure in your overall strategy, so that you don't feel the urge to negotiate or give in.

Ages 3 to 4
Your child pushes or pinches a playmate, or uses inappropriate language. What do you do?

1. Don't spank your child. This teaches that hitting is okay if you're bigger.
2. Don't criticize or lose your temper. This lowers your child's self-esteem and sets a bad example.
3. Don't isolate your child from peers.

1. Listen to your child's reason for getting angry and support his right to his feelings, expressed appropriately.
2. Tell your child the appropriate words to communicate the feelings.
3. Give your child a "time out" using the following rules:

Rules for "Time Out"
1. Tell your child in a firm, controlled voice that he's going to have a time-out.
2. Place your child near, but separate from, the desired activity.
3. Tell your child that he will have to sit quietly for as many minutes as his age. For example, a three-year-old sits for three minutes.
4. Time out is not over until the child sits quietly for the set amount of time.

Children at this age are beginning to learn the rules and limits, but they make mistakes. They need reminders and immediate consequences that respect their growing self-esteem and help them learn without embarrassment or an angry confrontation with their parent.

1. Observe how your child plays and compliment good behavior. For example: "I really liked how you asked for your turn on the swing."
2. Be sure you and other adults in your child's life are good role models in expressing feelings.