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Part Three: Creating & Promoting Good Behavior from your Child

This is the last in a series of posts on handling difficult behaviors from children. This blog is aimed at helping parents switch from constantly chasing negative behaviors to creating positive behaviors.

If consistency has been absent, and a child's "defiance” too great… it is time to weather the storm, and put your focus on building the positive. Here is why - if your follow through on consequence is inconsistent, your child likely has insecurity about trusting your positive comments as well. And if a child's defiance is too great, there is likely need for a stronger relationship to contain & support the child's needs. 

An important note here is how I am measuring the strength of relationship. This is NOT measured by being ‘friends’ with your daughter or being liked/admired/or cool by your son’s perception. It IS about being authentic and connected to the degree the relationship is able to withstand moments of conflict and dislike, because the underlying care, compassion, and safety are never in doubt.

So what does weathering the storm mean or look like? It means understanding tantrums and defiance, regardless of age, are going to happen until the child, or adult, has learned and mastered more effective coping strategies! It also means turning away from punishment, and allowing natural or logical consequence to be a teacher.

Problems with Punishment:

  • Punishment is relational – determined by one person and applied to another person, and therefore more likely to be inconsistent in intensity and frequency (better to keep the problem outside of the relationship).

  • Punishment often models and teaches power as means of controlling another person (better to model elements of a healthy relationship).

  • Punishment often promotes avoidance and emotional reaction (better to learn conflict resolution & emotional regulation).

  • Punishment is a bad behavior “stopper.” It is not a good behavior “starter upper” (Punishment does not teach the behaviors you want repeated)

  • Screaming, swearing, threatening, sarcasm, hitting, or displaying anger if used are being modeled for the child and therefore learned by the child – “this is how to make others do what you want” 

The following two forms of consequence are independent and unaffected by relationship:

Natural Consequence

  • It is NOT relational – it is cause and effect – rule of law, physics, and universe.

  • Wonderfully effective teacher because it is so immediate and consistent!

  • Example: Putting your hand on the stove will give you a burn

Logical Consequence

  • It is NOT relational when: – it is Predetermined, objective, and consistent.

  • It is the rule of the household, allows each member to chose & determine their own fate, and simply enforces the rule established.

  • It is generally as effective as it is simple, consistent, and enforceable.

  • NOTE OF CAUTION: if the house rules are measured subjectively and enforced inconsistently, the rule breaker will perceive the relationship as part of the problem. (And may even try to use the relationship as leverage toward their desired outcome)

  • Example: House Rule - choosing to use your phone past 7pm, means choosing to loose your phone for the following day. (if this enforced some days but not all, or at different times, the child will likely determine: some days they like me, some days they don’t – some days mom is mean, some days she is nice – etc.)

Having switched from punishment to consequence (while “weathering the storm”) will immediately put a parent in a different position relationally. This new position allows the parents more peace and comfort. The parent can let go of “being the bad guy” by allowing and accepting the choice their child has made. Parents also commonly report feeling more empowered in their own response rather than trying to control the child’s behavior. Most importantly, now more focus and energy, can be put into growing positive behaviors through relationship.

Ideas for facilitating positive behaviors:

  • Start with empathy every time

  • Prompt good behavior through clear, descriptive, & simple instruction

  • Assist the child in performing positive behaviors

  • Offer small steps to move forward in progress

  • Be descriptive and specific with encouragement!

  • Reinforce, reward, and praise all good behavior!

  • Immediate rewards are most influential!

  • Become a vigilant detective for good behavior you can reinforce!

The above ideas will not teach positive behaviors in one lesson. However, the better we provide empathy to the person, and detach our self and relationship from problems, the faster the learning will develop! For further resources on handling difficult behaviors, I would encourage the following resources.

References & Resources 


Playmore & Prosper is a collaborative community of health and wellness professionals who provide a unique, evidence-based, experiential approach to counseling and wellness services for kids and families. Our mission is to invite people into personal growth experiences through activity and the expressive arts. 

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