Helping your child to behave well

To help your child behave well you may need to understand why they are misbehaving. You may also need to alter your own behaviour to help your child change.

Understanding your child's behaviour

Identify a specific behaviour you would like to change, for example, your child demanding things. Every time that behaviour happens, write down what led to it (the trigger) and what happened afterwards (the consequences). Record how you behaved and felt too.

After a week, see if there is a pattern to the behaviour. Does it happen at certain times, with particular people or in specific situations? Explore what the consequences are for your child, such as getting attention.

Think about what your child learns from how you respond to their behaviour. Ask yourself if you are being consistent in your response and the limits you set.

Once you have a clear picture, set about changing the pattern of behaviour and concentrate on encouraging and rewarding good behaviour.

Discourage inappropriate behaviour

  • Ignore it – when your child shows a new, annoying but not harmful behaviour such as tantrums or bad language. Do not talk or look at your child or use any body language indicating attention. Use this approach consistently to show children they will not get attention if behaving badly. When the annoying behaviour stops, praise your child.
  • Time out – an extension of ignoring poor behaviour and most effective for children aged 2-6. You should not use it with very young children. Remove children so they are on their own for a short period (a minute for each year in age). This can help set limits and teach a child what is appropriate, particularly when they refuse to do what they are being told. Use sparingly. 
  • Redirecting – involves helping the child find an alternative but more positive activity similar to the one they were doing. For example, encouraging a child to kick a ball outside instead of kicking a door indoors.
  • Cooling off – for use when there has been an angry outburst or hurtful behaviour. You can send your child to a calming place to read, rest or do some nice activity until they regain control and change their behaviour. It is not used as a punishment. It also allows you time to cool down and handle any anger before taking action.
  • Allowing consequences – by experiencing the consequences of their action a child can learn to be responsible. For example, if a child rides a bike in the street having been told not to, the child must go indoors for a while.
  • Removing privileges – an existing treat is removed in response to bad behaviour. To be effective, you should follow three rules:  
    • link the punishment to the bad behaviour where possible and treat it as a consequence of that behaviour;
    • make sure it is age-related; and
    • be consistent in using it.

How to encourage good behaviour

  • Demonstrate – to your child the behaviour you want from them. Setting a good example is critical.
  • Talk respectfully to your child – take time to talk to your child and make eye contact with them. This helps your child pay attention to what you say.
  • Tell your child what you want – children respond better to this than being told what not to do. For example say: "Please keep your feet on the floor" rather than "Stop kicking the chair."
  • Make some rules – a few clear, necessary rules setting out reasonable limits that are consistently enforced will provide your child with a sense of security and help them behave.
  • Give opportunities to choose – this encourages your child to make decisions and have some power over their life. These choices should be within acceptable limits and suitable for your child's age and emotional development.
  • Pay attention and reward the behaviour you want – many children behave as their parents want most of the time. By noticing and rewarding this, you can encourage more positive behaviour.
  • Make an investment - every child needs individual attention. Spending time with your child can help them behave better.

How to reward good behaviour

  • Use rewards immediately after your child shows the behaviour you want to encourage.
  • Reward the behaviour every time it happens, to start with. Once your child has the idea, carry on rewarding the behaviour but not every time.
  • Only reward the behaviour you want to encourage.


  • Don't wait for perfect behaviour - praise your child when they behave appropriately. Do not praise inappropriate behaviour.
  • Difficult children need praise more often so look hard for even small things to praise.
  • Explain clearly to your child why you are praising, be enthusiastic and give good eye contact when you do.


Ways you can reward your child for good behaviour include:

  • crayons, paper, pencils
  • small toys
  • hiring or downloading a film
  • special treats in lunchboxes
  • choosing breakfast cereals
  • having a friend to play
  • selecting a TV programme
  • making play dough
  • growing seeds
  • staying with friends or family
  • an extra bedtime story
  • cuddles
  • extra time with you
  • picking an outing – to the park, cinema, swimming, feeding the ducks or going to the beach.

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