How to constructively react to a child’s bad behavior

How to constructively react to a child’s bad behavior

There’s no denying the difficulties of parenthood. As they grow from infants to babies, toddlers, children, teens and beyond, kids learn an immeasurable amount of life skills from their parents.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, through every interaction and reaction your child witnesses, their brain is taking something away for later use. Being mindful of the ways you react to different situations, especially bad behavior, isn’t always easy, but it’s incredibly necessary. From falls to spills to swears and outbursts, raising children is messy and full of surprises. Here’s why the way a parent reacts in these moments matters.

“When your child exhibits accidental or intentionally unfavorable behaviors, such as breaking or spilling something, it’s easy to overreact by yelling, saying unkind words, being critical or spanking,” says Dr. Rebecca Mortland, a psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “But these types of reactions can actually cause your child to fear making mistakes.”

Dr. Mortland encourages the use of “I messages” in those tougher times throughout the day.

“If your child displays a negative behavior, such as hitting or using bad words, you want to choose your words and actions wisely,” she says. “Instead of expressing that initial anger you may feel, stop and use an ‘I message’ to express your emotions instead. For example, ‘I know you are upset, but it is not okay to hit your sister.’ This communicates to your child that you understand they have emotions, but their behavior is not acceptable. All feelings are okay, but all behaviors are not.”

To better prepare yourself to react in a constructive way to your child’s potentially frustrating actions, take time to think in advance about what you might say when a tough situation arises.

“Consider the lesson or skill you want to teach your child,” says Dr. Mortland. “What are they learning when they spill their milk and you yell at them? Negative parental reactions close off the possibility for any type of connection to be made with your child, as well as the chance for them to develop essential emotional intelligence skills.”

While many behaviors are developmentally appropriate, certain repeated actions can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Check in with your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.

Are you trying to find a pediatrician? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.