How to Correct Misbehavior

How to Correct Misbehavior
Suzanne Stevenson, Parenting and Family Life Education Program Manager and Educator
Spanking is often viewed as a time honored method for punishing misbehavior.  It is done in the belief that it will stop unwanted behavior because we, as adults, remember a spanking that taught us a lesson after which we never repeated our misdeed.
However, there is plenty of research that counters the belief in the effectiveness of spanking for stopping misbehavior in children.  In a recent study conducted by George Holden at Southern Methodist University (, it was revealed that corporal punishment is not the most effective method for ending unwanted behavior or correcting misbehavior. In fact, the study demonstrates that spanking is often used for minor misbehaviors or with children who are very young and are simply behaving in a developmentally appropriate way.  Spanking rarely accomplishes the overall goal of modifying behavior and as the study demonstrated, children responded with more misbehavior within 10 minutes of the spanking.
What is a parent to do?
Remember, “Hitting never teaches children what to do or the right thing to do.  It only teaches children what is not acceptable” (Family Development Resources, Inc., Alternatives to Spanking.) One of the overall goals of parenting is to teach children acceptable social behavior. Instead of spanking, show the child what to do.  For example, if the 2 year old child is yelling in the restaurant or at the dinner table, lower your voice, move in close to the child and say, “Let’s use a quiet voice. Can you whisper? Whisper with me.” Give the appropriate encouragement when there is an attempt at compliance; “See how well you can use your whisper voice! Let’s do it some more.”  Some parents may be tempted to pop the child in the mouth at the first screech, but the pop does nothing more than teach the child that I get hit when I am trying to communicate with you or compete with the noise in the restaurant.
Learn about child development.  You don’t have to be a child development major, but understand the basics of each stage of development.  Children, and particularly young children, do not always regulate their behavior well. This does not mean that we let children get away with hitting, kicking, screaming NO, or running from us, but when we understand what developmentally appropriate behavior is then we use the moment to teach the child what to do instead. “We don’t kick or hit people or animals.  You may kick this ball outside.”  “If you want a turn with the toy, we say, ‘Can I have a turn?’ and then wait for our turn.”  Verbal and physical direction, time out or calming down time is the best techniques for young children.
As children grow older the loss of privileges, grounding, restitution, parental disappointment and even ignoring certain behaviors are tools for managing misbehavior or unwanted behavior.  Teaching children how to behave is tough work, but little by little you will see the fruits of your labor. More importantly, you will have a close relationship with your child. If you have goal for the characteristics you would like your child to possess as an adult and the type of relationship you would like to have with your child, it makes taking the time to teach what to do instead worth every minute and extra effort.

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