Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

When your kid misbehaves

There are about as many parenting styles as there are parents.  Your own style depends a lot on your temperament and personality.  In a similar way, your children’s temperament and personality dictates how they respond to discipline.  What works for a more laid-back child won’t work for a stubborn one and vice versa.  The best approach to parenting combines the unique facets of the individual parent/child relationship to create a balance of praise and consequences.  Our ultimate goal as parents is to help our children become well-adjusted adults possessing the fruits of joy, self-control, kindness, and love.

But, let’s face it, that is much easier said than done.  When your 3-year-old is screaming and slapping you in the face with your own iPhone because you won’t buy another sing-along app, you wonder if this kid will make it….or if you will.  How do you navigate those challenges and avoid parenting pitfalls?

  1. Have a disciplinary plan.  Being proactive in your parenting is much more effective than leaving yourself unarmed and reacting in the moment.  Having a plan of what you will do when your child misbehaves is key.  Have a toolbox of consequences that are immediate and appropriate based on the offense and their developmental stage.  The “time-out” methods are still very good.  Removal of privileges (video gaming, TV, toys, etc) also works well.  If your child is younger, simply ignoring their tantrums may be appropriate (this is essentially a “time-out” from your attention). If your child is older, allowing them to bear the full weight of the “real-life” consequence may be appropriate.  Losing your own temper by yelling or spanking just shows the child that the same behavior they were demonstrating is really okay if you’re bigger and older.  This parental “misbehavior” is just the utilization of tactics that scare and shame your child into submission.  It may work in the moment but have no long-term positive impact on your child’s self-esteem.
  2. Be consistent.  It can be very confusing for a child if the use of whining, crying, hitting and screaming sometimes gets them what they want and sometimes it doesn’t.  Naturally, if it’s worked at all in the past, they’ll keep doing it.  Tantrums are very normal beginning as early as 9 months until 6 years old.  Usually it is because kids these ages lack the communication and vocabulary skills to express their frustration.  Consistently ignoring their tantrums can reduce them, and encouraging more appropriate expression (ie. “use your words”) as they get older also helps.  But, sometimes “giving in” or letting them control the situation almost guarantees they’ll continue these behaviors, even past the age of 6.
  3. Use praise and positive reinforcement often.  If your child only receives negative reinforcement or consequences when they misbehave, they really have no incentive to behave well.  In fact, if this is the only way they get any attention from you at all, even though it’s negative, that guarantees they’ll continue.  A “time out” is only effective if you put “time in.”  Many of us are reluctant to praise a child who is nicely playing with their sibling for fear it will jinx the quiet. But, acknowledging and praising this behavior is exactly what should be done. The use of a “token economy” reward system can also reinforce good behavior (sticker charts, stars, treats, etc).  But, this should be very specific and is best for short-term uses and goals.

None of us will be perfect in disciplining our children.  But, it is very important to do.  No one wins if the predominant parenting style is permissiveness.  It’s best to be authoritative without being an authoritarian.  No one said that being a parent is easy…especially when your kid is flailing on the floor of WalMart because you said “no” to letting them push the cart.  Good luck!

Michelle Pierson, MD

Hi! My name is Michelle Pierson and I am a wife, mom, and general pediatrician at the Billings Clinic. I am excited about this blog and the opportunity to reach out to parents in my hometown of Billings. Growing up here and raising my own kiddos in this community gives me some perspective on how we can take care of our children's health with the resources we have in the region. I get great joy from my family and job, and a good piece of chocolate cake! A good book and "cuddle time" with my kids on the couch rank up there pretty high too.

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