A Parent’s Guide to Trashing Bad Behavior

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that I sort-of expect my kids to be perfect.

No, I don’t actually tell them that. But any little diversion in their behavior or choices really bothers me. Deep down, I think a lot of parents feel that way. Things that seem simple to us aren’t always so simple to our kids.

I mean really, some decisions in life are pretty simple. Don’t:

  • Jump around like a wild monkey at the store.
  • Throw a pencil at your sister, no matter how much she “deserved” it.
  • Secretly bring your Nintendo DS to bed when you’re supposed to be sleeping.

Stuff like that. Am I expecting too much? Not really. But lately I feel like my reactions aren’t helping the situation. Instead, lectures seem to result in more simple choices gone bad and increasingly moody tweens.

My kids’ counselor made a statement that really got my attention. He said:

“Make sure their good behavior gets your attention as much as the bad.”

Talk about awesomely simple advice! This is my goal for the week.

Make it a habit to bury your kids with positive attention. Here are some ways to show your kids you noticed their good behavior:

Celebrate like poopy on the potty.

Remember that day? You cheered! You made a cake and bought stickers and clapped like a crazy person. You showed your child that – yes! You’ve made me very happy! Keep that same attitude, no matter what their age, whenever they “get it.” I used this tip on Little Girl last night when I saw her (much improved) schoolwork and she was positively glowing, even at age 12. She felt so good that I noticed. I have a feeling she’ll be working to get more reactions like that.

Get to know your child’s love language.

Watch how your kids accept love – do they respond to verbal affirmations, spending time together, gifts, acts of service or physical touch? Then use these cues to encourage good behavior. My kids both feel love in different ways. I can buy Little Boy the smallest gift and it will blow his mind with happiness. He thanks me over and over and is plain tickled that I thought of him. Little Girl likes gifts, sure, but she feels most loved with a cuddle or back rub.

Take over a chore.

This is a free, easy way to make your kids feel special. Say something like, “I’m so impressed by your grades today – you deserve a day off from the dishes.”

Bend the rules.

No TV after dinner? Surprise them with a free pass. Do they always ride the bus home from school? Pick them up early and go out for ice cream.

Make a favorite.

Serve their favorite meal, dessert or seasonal drink like hot chocolate or apple cider. Make sure they know how they earned this special treat.

Spend time with them.

Good behavior or not, one of the easiest ways to help your kids succeed is to simply be with them. You can even turn chore time into quality time. Say, “I want to spend time with you. Can we talk while we clean up the kitchen?” They probably won’t jump for joy; but they will end up enjoying it.

Remember: Life is short. Childhood is even shorter.

Someday, your little boy will be 15, and you’ll wish he was five. Your little girl will start dating. Your baby will ask for the keys to the car. Don’t wait – Collect these precious moments to be close to them now.

When it comes to raising kids, being with them is the only perfect part.

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Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.


1 stef October 19, 2010 at 8:28 am

love this post. focusing on the good also works in your marriage! husbands love a special dinner, card, or praise in front of the kids after completing a big job at work, getting that thing checked off the to-do list, getting a good grade on that test for college or just being a great husband and dad! thanks for reminding me to step back and notice all the great things my boys are doing today… worth celebrating!

2 Melissa October 20, 2010 at 8:02 am

Very good point about using this in marriage, too. I will have to remember that today! Great to see you this weekend. xoxo

3 Jessica October 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Many good points stated. I just finished doing research for a paper in my Psychology class that talked about discipline with children and I learned a lot from it. Many of your points were stated in my research. There was a phrase I read that said, “It’s easier to acknowledge the good behavior then it is to change the bad behavior”. Basically along the same lines as what your counselor said. Thanks for the advice 🙂

4 Melissa October 20, 2010 at 8:01 am

Cool! I would love to read your paper when it’s done. I have to say putting it into practice can be hard, especially as the kids get older. You come to expect good behavior. But last night, I used it on a habit I’ve been trying to get Little Boy to form for months. I clapped and cheered when he made the right choice. I’ve seen him make the same good choice two times since then. Definitely something I can cheer about, too.

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