We’ve all seen the child in the grocery store having a meltdown in the cereal aisle. We’ve all heard of teenagers sneaking out at night for a joyride. Even the most mild-mannered child won’t always have the perfect manners. And boy, can this behavior be stressful for their parents!
Whether your child is two or twenty, here are four helpful strategies to help prevent misbehavior. (But, of course, some amount of misbehavior can still be expected. Just see 1 John 1:8.)
- Set clear rules and expectations for your child in advance, with clear consequences (both rewards and sanctions).
- Stay calm and coach your child in regulating their emotions, before during and after any episodes of misbehavior. If you’re angry, take a break before giving the consequence.
- Review those expectations and their behaviors regularly, noticing both the positive behavior and the misbehavior. Praise can go a long way in shaping desired behavior.
- Talk through (in an age-appropriate way) how these rules link to your family values. Why do these things matter?
Children will rarely ask for boundaries and structure, but they need these things in order to learn and thrive. You can help prevent their misbehavior by setting clear expectations, noticing their emotions and responding before they begin to act out, and having ongoing communication about how things are going and why these things matter. This teaches your child not only what to do, but why they should do this and how they should handle themselves when emotions are high or they don’t want to follow the rule.
It’s cliché, but true – you’re the grownup, they’re the kid. Sure, this is technically only defined by your age difference. But it is hopefully also defined by your life experience, your skill at recognizing and managing your own emotions, and your wisdom with regards to patience, delayed gratification, decision making, and problem solving.
Parenting is hard work, but a great blessing. One last tip: don’t get so caught up in their behavior that you forget them as a person. Our God gives us abundant grace. Parents are often called to give the same to their misbehaving kids.