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How to Discourage Bad Behavior in Children

Robin is a former third-grade teacher, has a Masters in Education, and has three children of her own.

Julia:  AKA "The Hair Puller."

Julia: AKA "The Hair Puller."

How Do We Discourage Poor Behavior?

Discouraging bad behavior in children can be tricky. Children who are given very little positive reinforcements for their behavior may act out for attention, even if the attention is negative. Once again, I believe we should try to encourage children to act appropriately because of the logical consequences of their behavior. These consequences can be positive with a kind deed, or negative with an inappropriate action. This holds true for children of different ages, but applying logical consequences early on can have lasting effects.

For example, our just-turned-two-year-old has been pulling the hair of our 5-year-old. (This is actually true. ;)) We've tried sitting down with her, showing her how she's hurting Georgia, and how it is making Georgia feel. However, she's not quite old enough to completely grasp the concept, i.e., she usually smiles. Recently, we've been telling her in a soft tone, "If you pull Georgia's hair, she won't want to play with you, and you'll need to go play by yourself." We then remove her from the play area with Georgia which is really upsetting to her. We calmly tell her that pulling hair hurts and that we are kind to our friends and family. If she wants to play with Georgia she needs to say she's sorry and be gentle. After she realized that every time she pulled hair she was given these consequences, the behavior stopped. She realized there are logical consequences for the things that she does. When she's kind and gentle we reinforce this behavior too, e.g., "Look how happy Georgia is when you are gentle." This process is building a foundation for future behaviors.

For children who are developing empathy, we can encourage them to help the person they have hurt. An example can be when a child pushes another child and they fall and skin their knee. A teacher can intervene; get at eye level with the two children, discuss the problem and action, discuss how it makes them feel to hurt one another, and the pusher can help the child by getting ice for them and sitting with them while they recuperate. This shows both children the logical consequences of their actions.


I'm not a huge fan of timeouts, but I do think that children need time to calm down and relax when they get upset. The concept is similar but the semantics vary a bit. When our five-year-old is misbehaving we may say to her, "You need to go spend some time by yourself. When you feel ready to act appropriately, we would love to have you in here with us."

If she is unable to remove herself, we may need to physically pick her up and place her on her bed or wherever we have decided is appropriate. (She has never had a negative feeling toward her room because of these actions.)

The difference between this form of discipline and telling her she is in a timeout, is that she has control. We are not timing her; she is regulating herself and knows when she is able to come out and begin participating again. When she comes back, we welcome her without revisiting the situation. Almost 100% of the time she comes back into the situation with a smile on her face, ready to play appropriately. On the rare occasion that she is not ready to be back in the room, we will tell her she needs a bit more time to relax and to try again in a few minutes.

What Tone Should We Use When Disciplining?

As parents and teachers, our tone is very important when we are disciplining. A tone that is soft and in control is preferable. Many times children are out of control and scared during times of misbehavior. An adult who is out of control only scares them or even worse makes them feel intimidated. This is hard; I know that I've raised my voice before in frustration and am definitely not even close to perfect. But, I strive to keep an even tone when disciplining. The point is not to scare or intimidate our children. Instead, we are trying to build their self-esteem and create responsible, kind human beings.

We make mistakes. It is important for our children to see us make mistakes and how we deal with them. If you raise your voice, apologize and explain what happened, e.g., mama was really frustrated with you and raised her voice. I'm sorry if it scared you. I will try harder next time to take a break when I feel that way and come back when I'm calmer.

What Should We Do With a Child Who Is Constantly Misbehaving?

Many times children who misbehave a lot need more structure in their day. Having clear cut expectations of them and what needs to be done provides the boundaries they need. I'm not suggesting the adult be overly strict; I am saying that having a clear cut idea of what is going to happen next provides comfort. Transition times are often difficult, but parents/teachers who give ample time and warning for these transitions help the child cope with change. There were many instances in the classroom where parents were puzzled by how well their child behaved in the classroom versus at home. While there are many factors that influence this, a big component is consistency and structure. The students knew what their day was going to be like when they walked into the room. They knew what behaviors were expected of them and how to treat one another.

One activity that we did in the classroom that can be done at home is talking about family expectations for behavior. The key is having your child be a part of the activity. Sit down with your children and discuss how you want to be treated and how you'd like to treat each other. Try to keep your list to about five brief expectations and write them down. You can put them on the refrigerator and revisit them as often as needed. Let your child do most of the talking and the parent/teacher can tie it together. Be sure to write down your expectations in a positive sentence. For example:

Edmondson Expectations:

1. We will treat each other with kindness, love and respect.

2. When we disagree we will discuss our problems in a calm voice and try to compromise.

3. We will help in family duties: cleaning up our toys, helping with the dishes, etc.

Your expectations may be broad. Talk about what it means to be kind, respectful, etc. If need be, make another list of what actions occur when we're loving, etc. When a child goes against one of these rules, or you do as a parent, recognize what happened, how you went against one of your expectations, and talk about how you will do it differently next time.

Even a child who misbehaves a lot behaves positively sometimes. Identify those times and reinforce them. Many times we have to step away from the "bad/troubled" child and choose to see them in a different light. We are the adults and teachers. We have the responsibility to see the positive light in all the children we come in contact with and reinforce that good in them. It is amazing the impact that we can have.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Thoughts or comments on behavior problems in children?

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on February 18, 2014:

Oh how I wish I was always calm. It is what I strive for, but just this morning I gave my daughter a count down in a very stern voice - something I wish I didn't do! ;) All we can do is our best and learn as much as possible about the most effective ways to deal with kids. Thanks for the comment! :)

kerlund74 from Sweden on February 18, 2014:

This really is interesting. And you seems to have found a meod to act calm but structured. Children need to now what to espect and they need to feel safe. The acting you describes clearly contributes to that. I know how frustrated and angry a child can make a parent feel, but as you mentioned, that's not the way to go.

Dreamer08 from Philippines on January 17, 2014:

Great hub! This will truly help me as a new mom!

mslenai on November 12, 2013:

Great hub!! I have a 22-month-old son that is the epitome of being a "boy" in every sense of the word. He is rough, very active and Mr. spiderman because he loves to climb on everything. The one thing I realized helped with his bad behavior is telling him "No" and explaining why he can't do XYZ, giving him a minor pop to his hand (depending on what he is doing and the severity of it. If he is playing with something serious then he gets the pop) and taking him away from the problem. He cries, throws a tantrum, everything under the sun but I just hold him tight and softly tell him that it's going to be ok and that he can't do XYZ. He calms down when he realizes mom is not paying him any more attention and he shuts right up. He gets up and play like nothing happened. I'm trying to teach him not to be a cry baby too so I pay him no mind until he stops crying and then I show him a lot of love! This is what helps me.

LouisAlbert from Taipei on June 25, 2012:

Thank you for a good hub. Your classroom analogy is especially good. It certainly makes sense! I plan on working with my sons on our list first.

Dark Lord on April 23, 2012:

I love this article. It taught me sooo much about discipline. Thank you soooooo much!!!!


iloveselenagomez on April 23, 2012:

i reckon children should not be scared of their parents. i am a child myself and i am terrified of my parents. i reckon that i learn more from going through situations by myself and getting disciplined.

Henry on November 02, 2011:

If you are looking to discourage your child's bad behavior you should look for a form of reinforcement; the punishment must fit the crime in order for your child to believe that their action is unacceptable. For example, if they write on the wall, they have to clean it right away. If a lot time passes they are not going to associate the punishment with their wrong-doing.

mabmiles on October 15, 2011:

Great hub.That accounts good parenting.

Char on September 27, 2011:

my daughter needs help discipling her young 2year old, he is out of control. Mom in a doctorand works long hours,and comes home to an uncontrollabe kid. My diciplines but the nanny negates her consequencea, help

Sher Lessons on December 05, 2010:

Great hub and I totally agree. I too was spanked as a child but I don't want my children to be afraid of me. I think it is better to teach them and have them deal with the consequences of their actions, good or bad. Ultimately our goal is to raise our children to be able to make it in this tough world by the time they venture out. To be happy, healthy, responsible people.

noorin from Canada on July 06, 2010:

I like how u demonstrated the consequences to ur two year old. Parents usually forget that words have little impact with anyone, let alone toddlers who are still learning to walk and talk. Though I don't have kids of my own, I built my experience by teaching kids for a year and thus ur article did ring a lot of bells.

Rated it up and will be following ya =)

eduscribe on June 19, 2010:

It's comforting to read that people care enough to seek out alternative discipline methods. You may add "guidance" to the "alone time" if you wish. It may make you and your child feel a bit better about the whole thing. I have a new hub called "Parent Help" if you'd like to read more about guidance vs. discipline. Most people don't know that there's a difference, but there is, and they work together. Adding "guidance" to the alone time means adding "discussion" about the child's actions the moment that she calms down. I detail this out more on my hub. Happy parenting!

dietsecrets134 from egypt on May 28, 2010:

Its very effective to support our children when they upset

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on September 26, 2009:


This is an excellent hub!

In order to feel loved, safe and secure children need healthy boundaries. Of course they will test you. It is important that whatever discipline you elect to use; you must be consistent! Parents need to be on the same page in this area!

I agree we must lead by example. Children learn more from what we do rather than what we say. It is important to acquire some Patience.

Time out is great! I think it is better to think "discipline" rather than punishment.

Excellent Hub!


rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on September 08, 2009:

love the hub, great info. I also teach and have implemented much of the same style as you have presented here. I think sometimes parents and teachers forget that the little child is also a human being and needs to be treated and disciplined with respect. I have a similar article about teaching values and respect to young children.

I became one of your fans, as it looks like you have some great articles here.... I'm still new, getting my feet wet!

By Grace 7 on September 06, 2009:

A great hub filled with advice and easy to follow instructions

OptimistsOnly from Christchruch, New Zealand on May 11, 2009:

Great techniques. Thank you for promoting progressive parenting and sharing proactive solutions.

airin on April 24, 2009:

Dear Robin, the hub is such a great help for a new mother like me. Keep it up as I will always looking forward for more advices ;)


dr c from San Francisco Bay Area on March 24, 2009:

Great hub, sounds like you're doing a great job, I love how you were able to modify your discipline strategies when initially it didn't work.

Angela Heess from Gold Coast, AUSTRALIA on March 21, 2009:

What a wonderful hub!

With my two kids, we find that the 'time out' technique works MOST of the time... but when they start singing songs etc, sometimes I really wonder...

A great read, very informative.

Be blessed

Lgali on January 21, 2009:

nice advice

L Izett from The Great Northwest on November 03, 2008:

Super hub! More direct and informative than many entire books that i've read. I especially agree about time-outs and positive reinforcement. I grew up with a couple of spankings and I survived!


tbelgard from The rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest on May 16, 2008:

Great hub!! I'm trying to figure out how to apply your suggestions with my 1.5 yr old. Boundaries and discipline issues are very new and challenging, I look forward to reading more about your own experiences, thanks!

nashomega on May 13, 2008:

Though i don't have kids of my own, I have seen a lot of them around me. I totally agree with you! Because mostly Parents prefer taking action, like hiting or scolding children loudly... I know it doesn't help

qatarvisitor from Qatar on May 11, 2008:

You sound like a great mother, Robin. I am afraid that we tend to ignore our children's tantrums. Walking away from them or ignoring them when they start to scream seems to lead to very short tantrums.

My youngest is still too young to understand much of what we say but with my three (almost four year old) our best strategy is something my own mother told me too use. When she starts to misbehave I say to her "Are you going to be nice Jessy or nasty Jessy? Because if you are going to be nice Jessy I want to play with you but if you are going to be nasty Jessy I don't want to be with you?"

It really works, and it ties in with some psychology I studed in education - emphasising that the child has a choice in how to behave, and that behaviour is not a fixed attribute but something that can be controlled by the child.

tjmum from Isle of Wight on May 10, 2008:

With a 1yr old and a 2 yr old we are beginning to run into difficulties - you can't explain to the youngest why he cant bite his brother or pull his hair yet my eldest doesn't quite understand why he can't retaliate! We spend most of our time trying to keep them apart. Still, it makes me sad when at toddler groups parents always comment on how ell bought up my eldest is as he waits his turn, shares with others and says please and thank you. It makes me wonder what they are teaching their own children. A great hub and some information I will take to heart for use as they grow older.

dindin from Texas on April 17, 2008:

We are struggling to make time outs work. I think we will definitely try the spend time by yourself trick.

Thank You for the tips

donnaleemason from North Dakota, USA on April 04, 2008:

Yes, I agree, I find that by asking them to go and spend time by themselves and come back when they are ready to play nicely is much more effective than time out even though it is basically the same thing.

I had a biter who has Autism. I am pleased to say that even she got the concept.


Blogger Mom from Northeast, US on February 20, 2008:

What a wonderful hub. It is way too easy to yell - much more work to calmly get control of the situation. I've got to remember that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. =)

flyingeagle on February 11, 2008:

Excellent Hub, full of useful advice. Ultimately, I think, a child wants to be sure of the parents love and appreciation. That can make it the only discipline you even need. Leaving them to calm down a few minutes can have a great effect. Our 4 year old soon realises she would rather be back with us and secure, and making us happy, than having silly tantrums. Of course, the older they get, the more difficult that can become.


timsbiz from Atlanta on February 07, 2008:

WOW, thanks for taking the time to write this amazing information!

I have totally seen were me and my wife have missed the mark with our two.

We will give take your advice, especially on structuring our 3 yr old's day,and activities.

God Bless,


greathub from Earth on February 06, 2008:

My nephew also pulls my hair a lot.

Would you like to visit my hub for knowing my viewpoint:

Diana Harvey from Philippines on January 30, 2008:

Hi Robin,

As far as I am concerned there is only one right way to bring up and teach Children and you have it exactly right just carry on that way and you will have super dupper children.

I grew up in the era where spankings were the mode however my late father abhored this method and we were brought up with reasoning.

For what it is worth I feel that children brought up with reasoning have a far better chance of succeeding in life as it also promotes commonsense.

You deserve your children.

Take care of yourself Diana

YoJDawg from Arroyo Grande on January 14, 2008:

good hub Robin, with my 3 year old niece i tell her once calmy that her bad behavior is not accepted and what will happen next if she does it again, the second time i remove her from the situation and stick to my decision.

Also, another Edmonson expectation you missed that i've noticed in my years with them is that...

1. Be awesome-The Edmonson's as long as I have known them have always been awesome.

2.Eat big good meals-Never turn down a Mr. Edmonson breakfast/lunch/dinner. nuff said

Ashok Rajagopalan from Chennai on January 09, 2008:

Half the time, we find kids manipulating adult behaviour!

I agree with you that we have to lead by example. That's the long term plan. Short-term, I think it's best that they are clear that we love them, in spite of anything they do. I tell my son, I love you even if you are a bad boy, but I will kiss and hug you if you are a good boy.

Kisses work wonders most times. :)

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on January 03, 2008:

Thank you all for your comments!


I agree with all that you said. Thanks for mentioning that both parents need to be on the same page of disciplining. Good cop, bad cop doesn't work in parenting. Especially when one parent is always the good or bad cop. I also loved your statement about a lazy mother always picks up after her children. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful comment!

MrMarmalade, The term a "loving smack" cracks me up; it's quite the oxymoron. Many kids are physically disciplined and turn out fine, I just think there are better ways of teaching kids how to behave. If we hit when we are upset or angry at them, it is difficult to teach them to not hit their friends/siblings when they are angry. We lead by example to the best of our abilities. I appreciate the comment. ;)

MrMarmalade from Sydney on January 03, 2008:

Somewhere we picked up the warnings 1 - 2 - 3

Something was done wrong we said one!

The second time we said two!

The third time we said three! and smacked them with some love. (In other words not too heavy. Amazingly they all went two rounds of a loving smack and never went down the road again. (That was for five sons). We notice they use the same methods as we did

One Two works believe me.

Kathryn Skaggs from Southern California on January 02, 2008:

Robin -

From a mother who has 'almost' finished raising five children, and has 'almost' seven grandchildren, I say...


I can tell you from the personal experiences I have had from raising my own, and now observing my three daughters as mothers... that you have hit the nail on the head with this article. I hope those who are fortunate to read this, will take to heart what advice you have past on to them.

Probably the MOST important thing I could share, is that no matter how you decide to 'parent' your children -- both parents MUST be on the same page. I cannot stress this enough. It is better to both parent 'wrong' together, that to be divided in how you do parent. This is applicable at any age.

Of course I am not implying the 'wrong' kind of wrong. I simply mean doing that which is not as effective as it could and should be.

In particular, with a more challenging child, this is imperative. I have seen the most difficult child, after unity is achieved with parents, including teachers at school if necessary... make amazing changes for the good.

You alluded to, and I am with you on this, that structure and knowing expectations and there consequences in advance... are so important to all children, at any age. This is how they develop trust. And following through with consistency is critical in this development.

There is a saying that goes something like this - a lazy mother picks up after her children. It is work to be consistent and reliable to those we have been entrusted to nurture.

Great hub!


MoralsEthics1960 from Florida on January 01, 2008:

Thank you for providing a place to go when we as parents need help.

Dottie1 from MA, USA on December 30, 2007:

What a wonderful hub you have written Robin. I like your picture of Julia "The Hair Puller", so cute. I had Sean "The Neck Biter". Your advice is the best. I especially love when you say "get at eye level with your children" and "our tone is very important". I look forward to reading more. Thumbs up to you!

Abhinaya on December 20, 2007:

Robin,I just can't thank you enough for this hub.As a mother myself I have had hard times with my kids too and this is going to help me a lot.Children do get scared when I yell at them and I do apologize later.But the pain of having hurt them mentally, persists in my mind.Thanks a lot and thumbs up!

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on December 15, 2007:

Great hub Robin! I affirm all the things you wrote. Discipline with a lot of loving makes the experience a positive one. :-)

Mark Knowles on December 12, 2007:

It all sounds better than the cane :)

Kiz Robinson from New Orleans, Louisiana on December 09, 2007:

This hub is simply parenting GOLD. There is nothing more I can say than that. You are a blessing and I can only imagine that your children love you very much.

sminut13 from singapore on December 09, 2007:

this is a great hub; one where i can definitely make use of the advice given. i agree with us being patient and telling them where they went wrong. my kid, 4, is at the stage where if he's a bit unhappy with us or if we scold him seriously telling him he shd not do this or that, then he will start to rub his eyes and say either he's angry or he's sad and walk off to our room by himself and stay there. sometimes he makes sniffing noises. for me, once my anger is cooled(if i'm angry at what he did) i'll go over to him and tell him gently why i'm angry and what he did to make me angry. so far, i am the one who has to like make it up to him. but there are times when i'm reallly angry i jus keep quiet as i'm afraid i may spill my anger to him and he knows i'm angry, so he comes over and says real softly sorry. hehe but once again, thanks for the hub.

Earth Angel on December 09, 2007:

Dearest Sweet Robin!! In my next life will you be my parent?? You are just the best and most thoughtful!! Your girls are sooooooooooo fortunate to have you!! And Paul!! Blessings sweet angel!! Earth Angel!!

Isabella Snow on December 09, 2007:

I don't agree with being chastised and publicly humiliated either, but it's pretty common in the public schools where I grew up. But then... the kids were pretty badly behaved, too. ;)

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on December 09, 2007:

Thank you all for your comments! It's interesting how times have changed. Many of your comments spoke of spankings when you were a kid, and I'm sure you all turned out fine. There are many ways to parent. However, I do think that, although more time consuming for the parent, talking kids through their behavior issues has longer more positive effects on kids and adults. It also teaches children how do deal with anger. If a child sees adults hit during anger, they are more likely going to repeat the behavior. Most children hit at some point, even if their parents don't hit. It is nice to be able to say to this child, "I understand that you are angry, but we don't hit in this family. Mom and Dad don't hit you. We are kind to one another, and when we're angry, we talk about it."

If you hit your child for punishment, it's difficult to reason with them that they aren't able to hit but you are. I understand the argument, you are the parent, you are in control, take charge, but not being a hypocrite is always an advantage.

Isabella, I totally disagree with publicly humiliating kids; it squashes self-esteem and confidence. If a child misbehaved, I would speak with them quietly not chastise them in front of their peers. Even now when our children misbehave in front of others I take them aside to talk about it. The goal isn't to make them feel bad about themselves, but to foster confident, kind, self-reliant people. I think we want kids to behave well even when the caregiver is no longer there. Public humiliation only works if someone is there to do the humiliating. When they're absent, the behavior is not tempered. Mind you, I'm not saying that I'm at all perfect at discipline or that I always know what to do, but I work at being a better parent/teacher and applying the principles that I know. ;)

Ricardo Nunes from Portugal on December 09, 2007:

I´ve loved this hub! I saw my self and my companion working to make our daughter the sweet loving child she is!

Thank you for this moment.

Isabella Snow on December 09, 2007:

Interesting hub, Robin. Re kids behaving better in class than at home - I've always felt that had a lot to do with the potential for public humiliation. Kids don't like it any more than adults! I know I'd have preferred a spanking from my mother over being chastized in front of my peers, that's for sure! ;)

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on December 08, 2007:

Great HUB Robin! Most time the 'behavior' of adults is what will mess up children. i.e. Friends of my sons don't discipline their two girls (I have never seen two worse little monsters in my whole life) They call themselves 'guiders' not parents. They laugh away bad behavior with 'kids will be kids'. Or this single parent friend of mine who would use the wooden spoon then upologise to the kid saying '...sorry I had to hit you but here have two of your favorite cookies'

good article regards Zsuzsy

teeray from Canada on December 07, 2007:

Will you babysit for me?

MrMarmalade from Sydney on December 07, 2007:

my mother always threatened me with a nerve steadier, Wedding ring connection to the ear. no wonder i have cauliflower ears. (just joking) My slightly older brother had a technique all of his own, He started to scream blue murder. It worked for him, never for me

gredmondson from San Francisco, California on December 06, 2007:

My mother,bless her soul, used a belt she kept on the wall-mounted coffee grinder. But, more important than that was my understanding of her expectation of how I was to behave. Plus, I just knew she loved me. That worked in my case.

So, I tried using her technique with my own children, and they vary in their levels of kindless to others. I've noticed, though, as they have become more mature and have moved into their thirties, their kindness has increased.

Aman deep Garg on December 06, 2007:

It's a gr8 hub.Vey useful for those parents who gets irritated when their child misbehaves.Good,keep it up.Do visit my hub.

Earth Angel on December 06, 2007:

My parents used a ping pong paddle for spanking at full force!! I still blame them for my ample booty; it's still swollen!! ;-) They did the best they could!! What's that old saying?? "It takes 50 years to get over the first 5 years of life!!" Thankfully, with parents like Robin and Paul, that will not happen to their little jewels!! Blessings, Earth Angel!!

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on December 06, 2007:

Good advice. My mother used a broom or a belt. It used to work!

glassvisage from Northern California on December 06, 2007:

A great hub... I'm trying to read up on this stuff early so I can have a headstart :) Sounds like good advice to me!

Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on December 06, 2007:

Thanks, EarthAngel!

Jimmy, that's hilarious. I've seen the Super Nanny, and I wasn't a huge fan of the naughty chair. However, she is dealing with some pretty extreme cases. Most families aren't that out of control...thank God! I love the idea of giving yourself a timeout from the kids! ;)

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on December 06, 2007:

After watching the TV series Super Nanny, my wife and I decided to try out the naughty step approach, that is where when a child misbehaves you sit them on the naughty step for 1 minute per year of their age, the kids loved it and started to act up so that they would get sent on to the naughty step.

i decided that the only way the naughty step works is, if the kids were playing up,

for myself to sit on the naughty step for 40 minutes and have time out from them lol.....jimmy

great hub Robin, full of wonderful advice and useful information, ths one is a keeper.

Earth Angel on December 06, 2007:

YOU are just the BEST!! GREAT Hub!! Hugs and Kisses and Blessings!! Earth Angel!!