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Can a Child with Behavior Problems Learn to be ‘Good’?

A child with behavior problems can learn to be good. Discover the specific strategies that, when used consistently, help kids understand how not to behave.

A child with behavior problems isn’t doomed to become a teenager, then an adult, with behavior problems. A child’s bad behavior is precisely that—bad behavior. When parents approach their child not as a problem child but as a child with behavior problems, the behavior can change. In other words, when the child doesn’t think they’re a bad person, they’re more cooperative in learning to be good. Granted, it’s still a process that can sometimes be difficult and requires patience, practice, and time. Keep reading to discover ways to help a child with behavior problems learn to be good.

Yes, a Child with Behavior Problems can Learn to be Good

Behavior isn’t random. Nor is it methodically and deliberately chosen (unless a child has oppositional defiant disorder or, especially, conduct disorder, but these are uncommon behavior disorders that require professional help). There is, however, an underlying reason for the behavior. All behavior is a reaction or response to something in the child’s world.

Usually, kids don’t know why they misbehave. This means that your child isn’t deliberately misbehaving to make you angry. It’s not personal. Something, though, is happening, and your child needs to change their behavior. Asking them why they misbehaved will usually result in a resounding, “I don’t know!” They really don’t know, and what they might understand, they can’t articulate.

A child with behavior problems can’t be excused because they’re reacting to something, but you can’t ask them what they’re reacting to or why they’re misbehaving. This is where they need your help. They need you to guide them so they can learn to be good.

Prepare to Teach Your Child with Behavior Problems to be Good

These guidelines with help you teach acceptable behavior to your child who acts out.

  • Do your research. Pay attention to your child’s behavior, good and bad. Look for patterns. When does the problem behavior happen? Are there certain circumstances or settings? Are transitions a problem? Is your child tired, hungry, or bored? This will help you see that your child isn’t naughty all the time, and it will help you know where to start working on the negative behavior.
  • Change the circumstances to change the behavior. Use what you’ve learned in your investigation, and plan how you can modify what happens around your child to gain early success.
  • Precisely define the behaviors you want your child to develop. Saying that your child will behave in the living room is too vague for them to understand and for you to enforce. Stating that your child won’t jump on the couch is more workable. To set your child up for success, your behavior goals should be specific, observable, and measurable.
  • Be clear. Rules and expectations should be clear and consistent.
  • Provide structure and routines. Kids need a framework for their days. Activities should flow predictably from morning through bedtime. Kids don’t handle unpredictability well, and kids who have behavior problems often don’t handle it at all without melting down.

How to Teach Kids with Behavior Problems so They Learn to be Good

Once you’ve established a few, important rules you want your child to follow, communicate them to your child so they know what is expected. Also, teach them what the consequences will be if they break a rule. Consequences should be clear and logical and designed to teach kids what’s unacceptable rather than arbitrarily punishing them for doing something wrong.

Using the principles of behavior modification can be helpful in teaching appropriate behavior. This involves the use of positive and negative reinforcements to shape behavior. Kids learn how to be good by experiencing positive and negative consequences. They learn to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Other strategies work well, too.

  • Time outs give kids a chance to step away from an emotional reaction and calm down. They help kids learn to self-regulate, which is the ultimate manifestation of being ‘good.’
  • Ignoring inappropriate behaviors teaches kids that misbehaving doesn’t get them what they want. To get your attention, they must figure out how to behave more effectively.
  • Refraining from yelling models positive behavior, and it doesn’t give kids what they want: your attention. Sometimes kids misbehave so you pay attention, and yelling at them meets their goal. Instead of reacting to misbehavior, catch them being good and respond to that.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but by using these strategies, your child with behavior problems can absolutely learn to be good.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, August 7). Can a Child with Behavior Problems Learn to be ‘Good’?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/behavior-disorders/can-a-child-with-behavior-problems-learn-to-be-good

Last Updated: August 13, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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