Education Insight| Encouraging Good Behavior: What Parents can Do

In the last Counseling Department parent information session I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the community, and discuss several important topics that are relevant for our children, including the psychological needs of pupils in our school, family influences on the healthy growth of children, what counseling can do for children and how children and parents can access the counselor at Huili School Hangzhou. I also introduced the play therapy room. To my delight, many parents participated in the session and enthusiastically asked many relevant and engaging questions.

In this article, I hope to provide some more practical tips. Parenting is an ongoing learning process that requires continuous effort, based on up-to-date research on understanding children. The good news is, the effort is rewarded well.

Below I will highlight 15 tips from the Australian government’s Social Services Department on how to successfully raise children. These 15 tips are aimed towards parents whose children are under 9 years old. For other parents, I hope you can still be inspired by these tips, adapt them to be relevant for your own child, and use them to cultivate empathy and responsibility in your children.

1 Be a role model

Use your own behavior to guide your child. Your child observes your behavior and uses this to influence how they think they should behave. What you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise her voice, speak quietly and gently yourself.

2 Show your child how you feel

Telling your child honestly how their behavior affects you helps them to see their own feelings in yours. If you start sentences with ‘I’, it gives your child the chance to see things from your perspective. For example, ‘I’m getting upset because there is so much noise that I can’t talk on the phone’.

3 Catch your child being ‘good’

When your child is behaving in a way you like, give him or her some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I really like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’. This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and tell them off.

*This positive feedback is sometimes called descriptive praise because it tells children specifically what they’re doing well (if you are interested in learning more about how to praise, encourage and reward children, please leave a message below). Try to make six positive comments for every negative comment, and remember that if children have a choice between no attention or negative attention, they’ll often seek out negative attention.

4 Get down to your child’s level

When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what he or she might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps them focus on what you’re saying about their behavior. If you’re close to your child and have their attention, you don’t need to make them look at you.

5 Listen actively

To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks, and repeat back what you think your child is feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks fell down’. When you do this, it can help young children cope with tension and big emotions like frustration, which sometimes lead to unwanted behavior. It also makes them feel respected and comforted. It can even diffuse potential temper tantrums (if you are interested in learning more about handling temper tantrums in the future, please leave a message below).

6 Keep promises

When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. She learns that you won’t let her down when you’ve promised something nice, and she also learns not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence. So, when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up her toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy. When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to leave straight away.

7 Create an environment for good behavior

The environment around your child can influence his behavior, so you can shape the environment to help your child behave well. This can be as simple as making sure your child’s space has plenty of safe, stimulating things for him to play with. Make sure that your child can’t reach things he could break or that might hurt him. Your glasses look like so much fun to play with – it’s hard for children to remember not to touch. Reduce the chance of problems by keeping breakables and valuables out of sight.

8 Choose your battles

Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it really matters. By keeping instructions, requests and negative feedback to a minimum, you create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings. Rules are important, but use them only when it’s really important.

9 Be firm about whining

If you give in when your child is whining for something, you can accidentally train her to whine more. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not maybe, so don’t say it unless you mean it.

10 Keep things simple and positive

If you give clear instructions in simple terms, your child will know what’s expected of him – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. And positive rules are usually better than negative ones, because they guide your child’s behavior in a positive way. For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.

11 Give children responsibility and consequences

As your child gets older, you can give her more responsibility for her own behavior. You can also give her the chance to experience the natural consequences of that behavior. You don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. For example, if it’s your child’s responsibility to pack for a sleepover and she forgets her favorite pillow, she’ll have to manage without it for the night.

At other times you might need to provide consequences for unacceptable or dangerous behavior. For these times, it’s best to ensure that you’ve explained the consequences and that your child has agreed to them in advance.

12 Say it once and move on

If you tell your child what to do – or what not to do – too often, he might end up just tuning out. If you want to give him one last chance to cooperate, remind him of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.

13 Make your child feel important

Give your child some simple chores or things that she can do to help the family. This will make her feel important. If you can give your child lots of practice doing a chore, she’ll get better at it, feel good about doing it, and want to keep doing it. And if you give her some praise for her behavior and effort, it’ll help to build her self-esteem.

14 Prepare for challenging situations

There are times when looking after your child and doing things you need to do will be tricky. If you think about these challenging situations in advance, you can plan around your child’s needs. Give him a five-minute warning before you need him to change activities. Talk to him about why you need his cooperation. Then he’s prepared for what you expect.

15 Maintain a sense of humor

It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humour and fun. For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor. Humour that has you both laughing is great, but humour at your child’s expense won’t help. Young children are easily hurt by parental ‘teasing’.

These tips are targeted towards parents with children under 9 years old, but they can also be relevant for those with children entering their teenage years. For these parents, the task of companionship can be more difficult because the expectations of teenagers change all the time. Unlike younger children, who need their parents’ consistent guidance and help, teenagers’ attitudes towards seeking help can be a bit vague. During this time, parents may need to be more low-key; accepting that children are not as dependent as they were when they were young. Parents need to also be tolerant of mistakes caused by teens refusing to accept advice. As adults we talk about learning from mistakes, failing forward and developing a growth mindset. If this is what we preach, we must then follow through with it and accept the mistakes of teenagers. The key is ensuring that children learn from their mistakes and gain the valuable experiences that come along with occasional failure.