Overwhelmed. Concerned. Worried. Frustrated. Confused. Angry. Hopeless. Stressed. These are words I’ve heard parents say when they sit with me to talk about their child’s behavior. As a parent I bet you might have a few more words on your list, too.
If you’re struggling with your child’s behavior, you are not alone. Kids do crazy, outrageous things. But did you know how much power you have in controlling your child’s behavior? I know, I know, I’m hearing you say it right now “There’s nothing I can do. My child just does these things!”
Well I’m here to propose the idea that there are behaviors that parents do that encourages negative behavior in their children.
If you’re looking to improve your child’s behavior, taking an honest evaluation of your own is a positive start in the right direction. Just like there are no bad kids, there are no bad parents. Only bad behaviors that get in the way of what you want for yourself and your child.
To help with this evaluation I have created for you the ultimate list of the top 10 behaviors parents do that make their child’s behavior worse. By reviewing this list you will be able to either affirm the great parenting choices you already make, or move your child toward a more positive direction by changing a few behaviors of your own.
1. Ignoring – I usually hear an uproar from parents when I tell them to stop ignoring the troublesome behaviors. “You want me to pay attention to the behavior? I thought I was supposed to ignore it???” In certain situations it is ill-advised to ignore escalating behavior, especially when a blowup or meltdown is coming. So what are you supposed to pay attention to? The cues.
Cues are little behaviors that get bigger and more intense the more upset your child gets. The bigger they get, the harder it is for your child to calm down by himself. It may come in the form of an eye roll, crossed arms, a whine, or a stamp of the foot. This is the time to intervene and problem solve. What’s easier to handle, your child as he’s whining and crossing his arms, or when he’s screaming and slamming doors?
Even though it feels like the behavior comes out of the blue, your child never goes from zero to sixty without some sort of cue that he needs help coping. Knowing the little behaviors that build up to the big ones will help you and your child address them in the moment. Paying attention to those cues will stave off a total meltdown.
2. Giving in – Giving in looks like giving your child a direction and when your child responds with a negative behavior, you drop the direction in order to stop the behavior. Maybe you’re at the store and your child whines for a third fidget spinner. When you tell him “Put it back” he screams and falls on the floor. You give in and buy the toy for him to stop the meltdown.
My guess is you’re tired and overwhelmed and you just don’t need one more thing added to your day. I get it. Completely. But abandoning your position because of the bad behavior teaches your child that the behavior is an acceptable way of communicating what he wants.
Staying firm in the decision you made for your child may make the meltdown last longer now, but in the long run will reduce these meltdowns since he knows that your “no” means NO.
3. Bribery – Have you ever found yourself bribing your child and practically begging him to behave? Have you seen that child acting out in the doctor’s office waiting room and the mortified parent says “I’ll buy you those Pokemon cards if you promise to stop screaming.” Yep, that’s a bribe.
Bribes are offered to stop bad behavior. Unfortunately, bribes usually encourage bad behavior to continue. If you do this, your child has learned that as a result of the bad behavior, he gets something good out of it. So next time he’ll restart the unwanted behavior to get what he wants. It’s a vicious cycle.
A much more successful action is to reward good behavior. Sounds similar but it makes a world of difference. Take the situation above. Now we hear the parent say instead: “You are in a doctor’s office and you do not scream in the doctor’s office. Show me you can sit quietly and we will talk then about earning the cards you want.” Whoa, power parenting! This child is learning he has to do something good to get something good.
4. Nagging – I bet you find yourself having to tell your child five, six, or seven times to put down the iPad to do his math homework, feed the dog, or pick the socks up off the floor. It’s almost like your child has the magical ability to turn his ears off!
Problem is, if it takes you seven times before you become exasperated and follow thru on your words, your child already knows he’s got seven chances before he really needs to act. By nagging your child, it essentially is like training his ears to tune you out!
Instead, follow thru after one direction and a reminder. You will make a big difference in reducing your child’s non-compliant behavior. Plus it means you won’t have to escalate into your own behaviors because you don’t feel listened to!
5. Denying feelings – Do these words sound like something you’ve said before: “You don’t really feel like that.” “Don’t cry.” “It’s time to get over it.” Usually when I hear parents say this to their child it’s because they don’t want to see their child upset.
It’s understandable you don’t want your child to feel sad or hurt. Or that you don’t want him to dwell on what happened. But when you deny your child’s feelings, you are denying him a voice. This can stunt your child’s emotional growth.
Acknowledging your child’s feelings, on the other hand, will help him to understand them. The two of you can even problem solve the situation and address it head on instead of pushing it aside. What meaning would that have for your child? For you?
6. Back-handed compliments – This is when you compliment your child but put a dig in at the end. “I really like how you didn’t fight with your sister today; I wish you would do that all the time.” Or “Your teacher says you’re well-behaved at school. Why can’t you do that at home?”
Why is this not ok? It seems innocent enough. You’re engaging in a conversation about something that works and you want it to happen more. The problem is you’re immediately following a positive with a negative, and this takes away the power of the praise.
Imagine how much more effective it would be if you said “I really like how you didn’t fight with your sister today. How did that feel? How were you able to do that? Is there a way I could help so that you could continue to fight less?”
7. Sarcasm – I for one find myself often using sarcasm when talking with my friends and coworkers. It brings levity to the situation, it makes people laugh, and sometimes it just feels good. But with a child? Never a good idea.
It’s counterproductive to use sarcasm as a reaction to your child’s misbehavior. If your younger child does not understand the tone, the point of your words will be missed. Then your child has lost out on the point you were trying to get across. For your older child who understands sarcasm he may feel mocked. Ouch.
Try adopting a less passive aggressive tone with your child, and leave the sarcasm for the adults in your life. Your child’s behaviors will only improve if your child can fully understand your words and feel respected at the same time.
8. Empty Threats – These usually come out when you’ve had it up to here with your child. Empty threats are exaggerated and you don’t follow thru on them. They sound like “If you don’t put all your toys away in the next five minutes Santa’s not going to give you any presents for Christmas” (it’s July, BTW). Or, “If you don’t stop texting at the dinner table I’m taking that phone away for the rest of the school year” (admit it, you take it away and then give it back in the morning).
I get it! You’re about to fall apart or blow up (maybe both?!) because you’re desperate for your child to behave. But what does this teach your child? That your words don’t matter. Your child hears your exaggerations, and learns not to take you seriously. As soon as your child stops taking you seriously, it’s an uphill battle my friend.
Reasonable consequences you can actually follow thru on are a more effective way of expressing your boundaries and teaching good choices. Not to mention, if your child knows you can and will follow thru, your child is more likely to comply.
9. Yelling – Yelling is the unsaid way of communicating “I’m frustrated right now and before I do something I regret I need to go cool down.” But chances are those aren’t the words you’re saying to your child. Am I right, or am I right?
Yelling will escalate an already volatile situation, or it will make your child feel intimated by you. This leads the situation into two different possibilities, neither of them OK. Either your child escalates right along with you, or your child becomes fearful of you and learns to behave only when intimidated.
It’s OK to take a deep breath, step back, and take a break. Taking it down a notch is the best response to a child who is upping the ante. You will only get closer to your goal of diffusing your child’s behavior if you model calm.
10. Spanking – Spanking is the ultimate sign of a stressful moment between you and your child. It also means you’ve lost control. And parenting is simply not effective when you’ve lost control.
Spanking is more likely to increase aggression, anger, and anxiety. Plus it can negatively affect your child years down the road. So you know all those precious grandchildren you’d one day like to spoil? Yep, spanking your child can have a negative impact on their well-being, too.
I’ve never worked with any parent who wants to spank. Parents feel like they have to. I guarantee it, you don’t have to. So what’s a frustrated parent to do? Stop disciplining by force and start disciplining with respect. There are other more effective methods that aren’t as harmful.
The bottom line: Find yourself saying “guilty!” to any of these behaviors? It happens. Does this mean you’re a bad parent? Not at all. It means you’re a good parent who gets stressed.
What you need to do next is ask yourself “Is this working for me and my child?” Maybe you catch yourself doing these behaviors every once in a while. After they happen you’re able to talk through it with your child and get back on track. It’s fabulous when you can recognize that you did something that didn’t work. Even better when you give yourself permission to try again.
But if your parenting style tends to default to any of the above behaviors, and you have a stressed out relationship with your child, there’s room for change. Don’t get discouraged and give up. Tweaking how you respond to your child will in time create big changes in your relationship. Your child’s overall health and well-being (and yes those outrageous behaviors!) will improve too.
What did you find yourself reacting to the most? What are some things you think you might want to change? What is working for you and your child? I want to hear your thoughts! Please comment below, or contact me by phone or email.
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.