Good Kids, Bad Behavior

by: Jonathan Brush, Ph.D., M.D.

In this article, you will find:

Ages 5 and Up

Ages 5 to 7
You tell your child to clean up the Legos®. She refuses. After repeating yourself, it's still not done. What next?

1. Don't nag. Your child will tune out and you'll become more frustrated.
2. Don't label your child "lazy" or "bad." This may lead to low self-esteem.
3. Don't do the chore yourself. This rewards the misbehavior.
4. Don't overreact and threaten severe consequences, then fail to follow through.

1. Calmly and clearly specify what the task is. For example: "You need to pick up all the Legos and put them in their box."
2. Set a time limit for doing the task and state the consequences of not doing it. For example: "This needs to be done by lunchtime, or we won't be able to have your friends over to play."
3. Ensure that the consequence is fair and that the child cares about it.
4. After one warning, but no repeated threats, follow through with the consequences if the child hasn't completed the task to your satisfaction.

At this age, children are aware of the rules of good behavior, but they still have trouble consistently following through with their responsibilities. They're concerned with "fairness" and they'll let you know when they think the rules of games, chores, or rewards and punishments aren't fair. It's important that you give kids this age lots of praise, while still being firm with your expectations.

1. Divide chores fairly among family members, according to their ages.
2. Be clear about what the task is and what the consequences are.
3. Praise and reward the child for doing his or her chores. For example: "Because you've done such a good job clearing the table, we'll have time for a special story or game together!"

Ages 8 to 10
It's almost bedtime and you discover that your child has been reading a comic book instead of doing homework. How do you react?

1. Don't angrily threaten or punish your child before understanding the situation.
2. Don't take over the job of organizing the homework.

1. Try to understand what is getting in the way of work. Show sympathy if the work is difficult and frustrating.
2. Help your child set up a reasonable homework schedule, balancing breaks with work.
3. Allow your child to experience the consequences of not doing the work.
4. Show pleasure when your child puts forth a good effort, not just when grades are good.

Children in this age group face increasing pressures to perform at school and in front of their peers. They can be very concerned with how they appear to others. At the same time, they need to take increasing responsibility for their behavior, while parents continue to provide guidance and limits.

1. Find out from the teacher how much time should be spent on homework each night.
2. Help your child to set up an appropriate area for homework, without giving excessive directions.
3. Provide assistance with organizing the work.

Note: If the homework takes much longer than the amount of time expected, explore whether there's a learning, motivational, or organizational problem. If none of these applies, perhaps the amount of homework needs to be adjusted.

Ages 11 to 13
Expected home at 5 p.m., your 13