Stop the Pestering! How to Change Kid’s Behavior

Avoid using negative means to discourage bad behavior.

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: Don’t hit or poke people!” How many of us have uttered that statement to our kids, only to have to deal with the same actions within a day or two? Changing children’s behavior is, at times, a frustrating, seemingly thankless experience, and it’s all too easy to throw in the towel and let our kids get away with it. Yet, addressing these problems is important to help them become happy, confident, well-adjusted adults. Here are some effective ways to get your children to stop pestering people:

Get to the root cause of your children’s behavior

Children often act out for emotional reasons. Unfortunately, they aren’t yet self-aware enough to understand how their feelings affect their behavior, so it’s your job to do it for them.

This, however, is the hard part – there are countless emotional triggers that could cause your child to act out, and navigating through them all will take time. Below are a few common ones; read on and see if any of these might apply to your children:

  • They aren’t being engaged or challenged. Children get bored when their learning needs aren’t met. As a result, they act out to try and stimulate their minds, bugging their classmates to get a reaction and draw attention.
  • They feel like they’re being ignored. Children know the easiest way to get adults’ attention is to engage in bad behavior.
  • They’re stressed, depressed or otherwise emotionally unavailable. Since children don’t have the emotional coping skills of adults, they’re less likely to handle these feelings in a positive way.
  • They think it’s amusing. This problem isn’t as severe as the others, but it does indicate your children need to learn how to entertain themselves in ways that don’t annoy other people.
Two toddlers pulling each others' cheeks.Find the underlying reason why your children are pestering people.

Encourage the good instead of punishing the bad

When we see a child acting out in school, at the store or in any other situation, our gut reaction is to use harsh words or negative reinforcement to discourage them. We’re not thinking long term – we just want our kids to stop hitting their classmates immediately, and spankings and time-outs are effective for that purpose. Unfortunately, this does nothing to heal the underlying issue, so your children will likely act out again if the problem continues.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should let all bad behavior slip by. Writing for The Huffington Post, childhood therapist Natasha Daniels noted violent or aggressive behavior must be discouraged immediately.

“Kids who resort to violent behavior have no ability to self-regulate and need help to develop those tools before they move into adulthood,” Daniels wrote.

So what does this mean? When your children misbehave, address the problem immediately, but work through the situation positively instead of negatively. Talk your children through what they’re feeling by acknowledging what they did, gently affirming that their behavior was wrong and asking them directly why they did it. You probably won’t get a straight answer, but the process itself is what brings about the attitude adjustment and helps your kids act more mindfully.

In fact, mindfulness is a good behavior-modification strategy itself. As CBS News reported, one West Baltimore school found twice-daily mindfulness sessions and having students meditate instead of going to detention brought their suspension rate down to zero.

There’s no hiding the fact that it’s annoying when your kids act out. Resist the urge to punish them and encourage healthy emotional coping strategies instead.