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My Child Misbehaves and Is Unhappy. What Can I Do?

Behavior problems and unhappy emotions often go hand-in-hand. Children misbehave in response to their emotional distress, and misbehavior brings disapproval and negative consequences that can cause or worsen distress. Children who exhibit appropriate behavior and are able to take correction from parents who are calm and authoritative are usually happier as well, and research shows that children whose parents can get them to comply without anger or extra problems, have better self-esteem. Here are some things you can do to begin improving the situation.

Spend Regular Time With Your Child, Strengthening the Relationship
Play with your child, cook, do an art project, blow bubbles, or go for a walk together. The exact activity does not matter, as long as it is safe, and your child is interested in it. Allow your child to take the lead. Make sure you have put away your cell phone and computer, and give him your complete, undivided attention.

Model and Teach Desired Behaviors
Make sure your child knows exactly what is expected of her. Show her how to do tasks step-by-step. Let her watch you do it, and explain how to do each part and why it is necessary. Help her practice until she is able to do it independently.

Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep each night, and that she is eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. If she is missing any of these three things, she will likely have some problem behaviors.

Keep Your Home Calm
Environment has a big impact on behavior. A loud, chaotic, or angry home will produce more misbehavior and unhappiness. Conversely, keeping your home calm, respectful, and orderly can go a long way toward encouraging calmness and good behavior in your children. Keep rooms tidy and limit the number of toys that are out at any one time. Speak to one another respectfully, and provide help and nurturing when needed. Maintain predictable routines. Consider playing calming music or nature sounds as ambient background noise.

Give Directions Calmly and Firmly
When you need to give an instruction or a warning, make sure you have your child’s attention. Use a firm, definitive tone to communicate that you mean business. At the same time, be calm. Do not try to use anger or shame to motivate your child, and always allow your child to maintain his dignity. Wait a moment and give him a chance to digest what you just said. Convey by your tone and your body language that you expect compliance.

When Your Child Deliberately Does Wrong
When he disobeys or deliberately causes a problem, your child will need to re-do the behavior correctly. This is called a “do over.” If he ran when you told him to walk, for example, he will need to go back to the starting point, and walk this time. If your child destroys something or hurts someone, he will need to apologize and do something to put things right. This is not a punishment; it is teaching the need to make restitution when one causes harm.

Look for Patterns Where There are Problems
Try to notice what happened right before your child misbehaved. Keep a log and see if you can identify any patterns that might be causing the problem or contributing to it. You can also share this log, or the information about any patterns you have noticed, with your child’s pediatrician or psychologist.

Let Your Child Know When They Have Done Well
Acknowledge good behavior with your praise and approval, including things that seem small. Take time to notice your child’s strengths and point them out to her. Find ways to use your child’s strengths to help her compensate for areas of weakness. Above all, let her know you are proud of her when she has made an effort to meet your expectations.

If you are concerned about your child, you may contact me for a free 20-minute phone call to discuss your needs. You can also read my ebook Help! My Child Doesn’t Listen, available on Amazon.

*Psychological services are available to residents of New York State and Ohio.

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