How to get your kids to behave

Patricia asks…

“My 5 year old son is constantly challenging my husband and me. He does not listen when I ask him to do something. When I take him shopping with me he constantly runs about the shop, picking things up and dropping them on the floor. When I ask him why he did it, he just says ‘because I wanted to’.

Mass on Sundays is another battle — constant standing, sitting, moving, talking, then roaring, annoying others who want to hear the mass. When someone talks he keeps interrupting, even myself and my husband. When he eats, he drops foods he doesn’t want on the floor and I end up cleaning it up.

I am at the end of my tether with him, I am constantly stressed out over it… If you have any guidance or help I would most welcome it.”

© A natural thing

How to get your kids to behave — it’s a problem every parent faces. The answer is good habits… that’s the key to everything.

Get everything you want into good habits so they know and expect what’s coming…

“Talky-time” at bed-time is a great example of a good habit for children. Start with a short story and then talk about the day.

Keep in mind what you want to say to him but don’t force it — let it come in the conversation naturally if you can. Use talky-time to talk about how you feel about the day and get him to talk about how he feels. Over time, this will give you an amazing bond…

Another thing is to tell him IN ADVANCE, the behavior you expect and WHY. Draw up a list of unacceptable behavior and go through it with him so he knows what is expected.

Before you go shopping or to mass, remind him how you expect him to behave. If he doesn’t gently remind him with a warning and if he continues you must punish him by removing something he enjoys — the usual treats, a fun activity or a toy etc. He’ll soon get the message. There has to be consequences for unacceptable behavior and those consequences need to be consistent so he learns the cause and effect very quickly and clearly.

Removal of an enjoyable activity or toy is combined with “time-out” in the “naughty zone” or “reflection room” for the number of minutes equal to the child’s age. Again be clear and consistent in applying time-out. If he misbehaves when you’re out, then reflection time is done as soon as you get back.

At the end of each time-out, tell him why he had the time-out and ask him to say sorry — “nicely.” If he doesn’t, the time-out continues until he does say it nicely. When he behaves badly and you’re reprimanding, explaining consequences or asking for an apology, be sure to come down to his eye level and get him to look you in the eyes whilst you’re talking calmly.

Don’t punish or make him say sorry for behavior that he doesn’t know and understand is unacceptable — make sure it’s all fair and he’s had fair warning. Stay calm at all times and talk calmly and authoritatively when applying consequences. It’s very hard for children of his age and energy levels to stay quiet and do nothing for long periods of time. Try to give him things to do to occupy him if you’re shopping, at mass or visiting friends.

He’s obviously got loads of energy so you need to allow him to run this off in the natural way. One important new rule is that the house is not for running around and he must do it in the garden. Gives him lots of games to play in the garden e.g. trampoline and get him to clubs like gymnastics, swimming etc where he can run and play and have fun.

Kids thrive on absolute crystal clear and CONSISTENT guidelines… “This is ok, this is not ok.” Be solid and consistent about what is allowed and what is not. Tell him many times that every decision you make is for HIS benefit. This will help him re-frame what is happening. Always explain WHY… e.g. you must be quiet in church BECAUSE others are trying to listen and pray.

Keep him eating the healthiest foods — no e numbers/coke etc. Sugar strictly limited. All these things cause uncontrollable behavior. Be sure to notice and praise all his good behavior — reward this with lots of positive attention and play time with you. You can also use star charts with treats of enjoyable activities etc for continued good behavior.

I highly recommend the TV series Supernanny. I think every new parent should learn all these parenting skills before things start going pear-shaped :-) Have a look for it in your DVD store or on TV. They also have a website with great advice for parents. You can even see Supernanny episodes online on 4 OD or

Supernanny has exactly the same philosophy as Happy Guide — GET TO WHAT WORKS ASAP. Simple techniques you can put into place simply and effectively. And what Jo Frost of Supernanny does expertly is install new, simple and precise good habits.

When it comes to parenting, just as it is with health and happiness, lack of really SIMPLE methods, simple good habits, can cause a HUGE amount of suffering and even end marriages. It’s a tragedy really. The pressures can become that unbearable and relationships strained so much. Even highly intelligent and capable people can be brought to the end of their tether for lack of really simple key advice.

The methods in this article may cause a big backlash or worsening of his behavior in the short-term as he resists the new way. Stay clear, consistent and fair and they will pay off massively. Remember it won’t always be a battle if you follow through. He will soon learn and then there will only be a need to punish bad behavior rarely, if ever.

I remember a few stretches of a few weeks where my son Sam “tested” us rigorously. The key is to stay clear, calm and consistent no matter how much they kick and scream. Like every area of life, I think it’s always important to keep in mind what you WANT in any situation. The clearer YOU are, the easier and simpler it will be to bring it about.

Get ultra clear about the methods that WORK and clear about how to apply them. Then you can look forward to lots of happy times with your son and none of the battles.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

Read Chapter 1 “The Happiness Secret”
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One thought on “How to get your kids to behave

  1. thanks for the prompt reply it is amazing when you re read back my own letter how easy it appears to solve it, it is putting into practise and i can guarantee you that each and every one of the tips and eg. i gave will be a huge milestone for me and partner to achieve with out 5yr old, he is full of life and sometimes i feel so guilty that i am holding him back and not fully enjoying his unique personailty without putting my ideas and stamp mark on him, i appear to be suffocating him with my commands and expectation when in fact he is doing the same for to me he wants my partner and me to accept his ways and behaviours, we have bad habits also but i hope going forward in 2011 that i can be a better mum and have fun and make it as enjoyable as possible and both of us will grow and bond in a great way. i look forward to taking one step at a time. i will begin with routine and being consistent and try to instill it into my own life as well, because if i want to teach my son i must also be able and be seen to do it myself. once again Mike & James thanks for your support and guidance, i do hope you will perhaps publish some more tips and happy guide on this topic kids, as i feel there is a great opening for it and a book would be great, any more tips and websites would be most apprecated by me, talk to you soon


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