3 Quick Keys to Deal with Inappropriate Behavior

What do you do when your children – no matter what the age – behave in ways that just do not work for you? There are options – screaming fights, spanking, ignoring, sarcastic word matches are some that many of us have used at times. Not our most stellar moments to be sure, and yet very human ones. There are stands we can take inside and strategies we can practice that will help us choose more productive options more of the time. Try these 3 keys ~ they may be easier than you think once you get used to them.

1. Assess the situation without reinforcing the unwanted behavior. How? When your child is behaving inappropriately give as little attention as possible to the behavior you don’t like. Make sure your child is safe first, then look at the situation and see what the behavior might be telling you. What might he/she be reacting to? Did she not get what she wanted? Is the environment too crowded, noisy, anxiety filled, smelly, touchy, etc. for him? Make changes in the environment as needed without giving attention – including condemning, explaining, lecturing, preaching about the behavior. All of these are reinforcers and will often increase the intensity rather than de-escalate. Step aside and give her a moment to calm down – a signal like “Take 2” might be reinforced regularly so she knows that means time to chill and we will move on.

2. Describe the situation and give direction neutrally. How? Take a breath of your own and remind yourself this is a teachable moment. The behavior is inappropriate, your child is still good. If you must respond (e.g. you are in public or where you cannot leave the area) then identify the emotion you are getting from the child and give a direction – neutrally. The more energy you give to it the more you are reinforcing it as a way to get your attention. For example, “You seem very angry and you are screaming.” If more is needed add, “Either stop screaming and talk or we’ll have to leave for now, your choice.” Then follow through. If they don’t respond, you decide – usher them out to a place they can calm down, not where you can yell at them! Then clearly set the boundaries of what will happen next. Be neutral in tone and body language as much as possible.

Once they stop the behavior, acknowledge their shift and be ready to provide support, depending on the age of the child. This may be finding out the real problem, talking about different ways to communicate, or just saying “I love you and that kind of behavior won’t work.” In the moment of the screaming is not a time to explain what not to do – it is the time to help your child identify her emotion and find the off switch.

3. Support the ability to calm or change behaviors and encourage self acknowledgment. It takes courage and self regulation to stop a reaction/tantrum/etc. It takes wisdom to learn from a mistake and course correct. Together you may decide not to do that activity together. This is not to say reward the unwanted behavior, a treat or getting to do something else when your time was taken away from something you really needed to do, isn’t how this works. Recognizing when your child shifts and the strength it took to do that and learning different ways to communicate are beneficial to stop the cycle. Its easy to beat ourselves up endlessly and stay in the loop of self degradation and anger. It’s easy, but isn’t helpful. We are all doing the best we can with what we have in this moment. Let inappropriate or unwanted behavior be stepping stones to knowing more and doing better.

What other keys to dealing with your child’s inappropriate behavior that have worked well for you?


Self-compassion is a powerful tool for growth. Read about 5 ways to Foster Self-Compassion in this wonderful article found in the Cubs Community Newsletter. Practice using it with yourself and demonstrating/encouraging your children to do the same. Notice the benefits.

By the way, the Cubs Newsletter is part of the ServiceSpace Cubs Community which was formed in the spring of 2011. The group is made up of parents, teens, educators, activists, authors, scientists, artists, storytellers and everyday people who are passionate about teaching children compassion and the values of selfless service. Check it out!


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