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5 Things Parents Should Know About Bad Behavior

5 Things Parents Should Know About Bad Behavior

Advice from a a licensed clinical social worker.


“Parenting is easy,” said no one ever. It involves dealing with endless laundry, poop, and stomach viruses, plus making lunches, grocery shopping, cleaning up messes, and much more. It sometimes can be a thankless job, but it’s the job for which we signed up. We parent out of love, and mostly, even with the work, it’s a joy. However, there is lots of unpleasantness that isn’t an inevitable part of the job, namely dealing with kids’ whining, complaining, tantrums, and wheedling. These button-pushing, parent-provoking behaviors are mostly learned, but they can be unlearned in a flash. When that happens, parenting becomes less like a job and a lot more fun.

Here, Dr. Catherine Pearlman, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking The Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction, shares five important points parents should know about kids’ annoying and attention-seeking behaviors.

  1. Kids whine, complain, and negotiate all for one simple reason: because it works. Begging for an ice pop or complaining about having to eat broccoli tends to get the desired response. Either kids get to avoid something they don’t want to do, or they get something they desperately want, like another brownie or more screen time. If the behavior didn’t produce these rewards, children would find other more appropriate ways to behave.
  2. Behavior that is reinforced will be repeated. Kids are smart cookies. Once they break the parenting code and figure out how to get more of what they want and less of what they don’t, they will use these effective techniques to their advantage. Children aren’t deviant monsters; they are just learning from their parents how to work the system. If you knew what to do to get a free Frappuccino at Starbucks, wouldn’t you do it?  
  3. When parents change how they respond to a behavior, the behavior changes. The good news is that children notice very quickly when their tried-and-true behaviors are no longer effective. If kids throw a tantrum but it gets them nothing, they decide it’s not worth it. When arguing and begging for more screen time produces no more time and no additional attention, kids give it up.
  4. To avoid rewarding or reinforcing misbehavior, ignore it. Once you’ve said no to a pack of gum at Target or a balloon at the stationery store, ignore the whining and complaining. Also ignore it when your child tries to negotiate for fewer carrots at dinner, or burps for attention. Without any reward kids will quickly drop these behaviors. Why would kids beg, whine, or negotiate if nothing comes of it?
  5. Ignore the misbehavior, not the child. Kids still need attention, so give it to them, just not following misbehavior. Instead catch the,r listening, being kind, or following directions, then reward them for those actions. An important caveat of ignoring misbehavior: Don’t ignore your child’s pain or anyone who is in pain as a result of your child’s behavior.
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Author: Dr. Catherine Pearlman is a licensed clinical social worker, an assistant professor at Brandman University, and the author of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking The Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction. Visit Catherine’s website, thefamilycoach.com. See More

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