Parenting • Oct 06, 2016

How to Get Your Child to Listen and Behave

Sometimes our kids might not behave exactly how we want. Many parents struggle with the embarrassment of children throwing temper tantrums in public or not listening in a restaurant. Dr. Dehra Harris, a pediatric psychiatrist with Washington University at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, discusses different methods to get your child to listen and behave when they are repeatedly acting out.

If you want your child to behave, Dr. Harris explains, you first need to separate all of your child’s behaviors into two categories– start behaviors and stop behaviors. A great way to do this is to have a family meeting and discuss the behaviors that constantly waste your day.


Start Behaviors

Start behaviors are the things you wish your child would start doing. These are the behaviors that parents want to motivate– but instead tend to punish. One example of a ‘start’ behavior is when you want your child to start getting in the car quickly.

When trying to get your child to listen in this situation, try using incentives — such as a sticker or a piece of gum. This form of positive reinforcement will help your child learn good behavior. It’s important to note, though, that this method of using incentives to get your child to behave is only effective once the “start” behavior has been exhibited. In the example of motivating your child to get in the car quickly, the reward should be withheld until the seatbelt clicks.


Stop Behaviors

Stop behaviors are things you wish your children would stop doing. Typically, parents are better at recognizing stop behaviors.

Dr. Harris uses the example of repetitive whining as a stop behavior. She explains how you can get your child to listen by using the counting method, which can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Give your child time to process information.
  2. Allow your child an opportunity to change their behavior.
  3. Impose an immediate consequence if the repeated behavior is continued. Immediate consequences are simple changes to your child’s environment such as turning off a TV or leaving a store.

When trying to change your child’s behavior, it’s important to stay consistent and motivated.  Check out the parenting section of the St. Louis Children’s MomDocs blog for more information about behavior in children.