How to Raise Well-Behaved Children

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Raising well-behaved children. This is what we all go into parenting hoping to do. Sometimes our desires to do things a certain way or to have a certain outcome get derailed because we’re unsure how to get from point A to point B. Or maybe our past baggage from how we were raised gets in the way. Or maybe we just don’t have the tools to guide us along the way.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.
    This goes for just about any topic out there, but think of the long-term consequences of doing any 1 thing regarding child care and child rearing. In the short-run, you may find a solution that may gain you immediate compliance or be a quick fix, but then down the line you will have to undo that conditioning and the workload will be at least double. I figure do it right the first time and be done with it.
    This could be things like: holding a baby until they fall asleep versus gentle sleep training, letting a child do whatever they want without consequence versus showing and telling and guiding children towards appropriate behaviors.
  2. Think about why your child is behaving the way they are.
    If your child is acting out at the grocery store, instead of yelling at them, spanking them, or being a jerk right back to them, think about what is causing the misbehavior. There’s always a reason, although it may take some digging to find it. Hunger, fatigue/tiredness, feeling isolated/lonely, being too hot or cold, being scared, wanting to be held, wanting attention, etc are common reasons. If you can figure out what the cause is, then you can help remedy it. For a child that can talk, ask them what’s wrong. If they are pre-verbal, try a few different things, if possible, to try and rule out possibilities.This also shifts your focus from reactive to responsive, which is a paradigm shift in thinking. It helps you focus on the fact that your child is a person with preferences, opinions, feelings, and needs versus thinking that they are trying to manipulate you or get what they want (though there’s plenty of that later IF you don’t have a solid and consistent foundation/relationship with your child).
  3. Explain things to your child in a simple, matter-of-fact fashion.
    If your child wants to eat a cookie, tell them why they can’t have it versus just saying “no”. In my household, I rarely use the word “no” because I give simple explanations and/or tell the child what the proper way to do things is.So if my son asks for a cookie (and he’s had enough sweets today), I’ll say, “Sweetie, you’ve had too many cookies today. We can have another cookie tomorrow.” So he knows that I’m saying no to a cookie right now, not indefinitely. Or if we are about to eat dinner and he asks, I’ll say, “We are going to eat dinner soon. We can have a cookie after dinner.” Then he understands that he needs to eat food first and then dessert. Notice that I didn’t say something like “eat all of your dinner” or “clean your plate”. Children know when they have had enough and forcing them to eat everything can lead to eating disorders later in life. Just serve smaller portions next time and chalk it up to a lesson learned on your end.
  4. Always tell the truth!
    It may be tempting to say “Oh, the store is closed!” when the truth of the matter is that you don’t want to go. Sooner or later, your white lies will catch up to you and your child may have trouble believing what you say. Hold yourself to it to tell the truth to your child, no matter what. 

    If they say they want ice cream and you don’t have any money left, say, “That sounds fun! I don’t have enough money for that, but we can maybe go next week.” Or if your child wants to go outside to play and it’s 8pm, say, “It’s dark outside right now. We can play outside tomorrow when the sun is up.” Or if they ask where grandma went, say, “Grandma had to go home. She’ll come back another time.”

  5. Involve your child in daily tasks.
    Anything from household chores to laundry to grocery shopping to picking up after themselves, get them involved and get them involved young. About the time a child is 1.5 years old they should be feeding themselves (maybe using a spoon or fork), drinking out of a sippy cup, maybe taking their dish to the sink after mealtime, doing light picking up, putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket after they take them off, helping you pick out produce at the grocery store (with help), getting food for the pet bowls (with help), unloading safe and unbreakable things from the dishwasher and handing to you, loading the washer with clothes (with help), and other small tasks.Not only does this teach them independence, it gives them confidence. It helps them feel capable of their abilities. It also shows them that things are expected of them in your household. They will go away to college knowing how to do laundry!
  6. Have behavioral expectations of your children and enforce them consistently.
    The biggest flaw parents have is the lack of follow-through. You need to be consistent and use consistent phrases to have credibility that your word means something. This goes hand-in-hand with #4. In our house, we don’t walk around with food, so children have 2 options: “you can sit and eat” or “if you’re done you can bus your dish” (dump any uneaten food and then take it to the sink). This way they understand that they have the choice as to whether they are eating or all done, but that the rules surrounding each setting are determined by me, the parent/provider.Or have an expectation that they put their shoes away in a designated spot when they take them off. Here, I say to my son, “Where do shoes go?” and then I showed him where they go when he was around 1.5 and ever since he has put them there when I say this. He runs off all excited to do it too! I also have a few rules for things out in public like: need to sit nice while out to eat or you’ll sit in the baby chair (high chair),

    You also need to put your own shoes away as well as other items if you want your child to do it with theirs. “Monkey see, monkey do”.

  7. Give them real food from a young age. Don’t keep them on baby food or kid food for long.
    Children develop their eating habits within the first 3 years of life. Texture aversions and food aversions/being scared to try new things are usually developed in this time frame as well if they are not exposed to a variety of textures, fruits, veggies, and etc. Give them real food as soon as you can and limit the amounts of purees and “kid food” because they may never outgrow it!
  8. Narrate what you’re doing as you do it.
    This helps your child learn why you do the things you do as well as lets them hear words, your thought process, and understands the processes for things in life.
  9. Be sure to let your child have independence!
    This is the generation of helicopter parents and children who have caregivers that part take in this method of parenting tend to be more clingy, have more separation anxiety, and cannot do tasks/play alone because they are looking for someone to make commentary and watch what they are doing. Children need to learn that they should enjoy doing things for the sake of doing them, not for the recognition they may get for it. If a child sees you engaged in activities like cooking, cleaning, reading, etc they will naturally want to do their own activities and be independent in their interests. A healthy dose of independence and dependence on caregivers helps children to have their needs met when needed and to also learn to separate from their caregivers.
  10. Challenge them in tasks and movement of their body.
    Children learn best when they are in a comfortable and safe place where they can explore boundaries, test limits, and see what their bodies can do. Safe crawling, walking, climbing, jumping, and running are all important to gross motor development and should be encouraged in appropriate settings.

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