Children are emotional creatures and are often at the whim of their impulses. While not all the impulsive behavior in childhood is truly problematic, some will require you to deal with them. Parents should begin by understanding the root cause of the behavior problem, showing disapproval for the action. They should then establish clear limitations on behavior, praising their children when they stay within the limits.
Understand the root cause. Distinguish an intentional act of misbehavior from the childishness of children. According to the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, not all frustrating behavior in a child should be cause for concern. In other words, pick your battles. A child yelling when he’s excited, for instance, is not a behavior problem, though you should explain to him that keeping his voice down is polite. Hitting, in contrast, is a behavior problem. Ask yourself whether the behavior in question is harmful to the child or others before proceeding with a plan to deal with it.
Show disapproval of the behavior. Use both verbal and nonverbal communication to show your child that you’re disappointed. Frown and say “I’m disappointed in the behavior you chose.” Remember to put the emphasis on the behavior being wrong, not the child being bad. For example, instead of saying “You were greedy not to share your toys,” instead say “It’s impolite to take all the toys and not share with others.” In this way, you remove blame from your child and instead point out that it’s the action, not person, that’s wrong.
Fix firm limitations for future behavior. Make sure you clearly outline the boundaries of behavior and ensure your child understands. For some actions, this is easy, such as in saying “We don’t hit anyone under any circumstances.” But for other actions, you must come up with a limitation that’s both reasonable and easy to follow. For example, tattling isn’t a good behavior in general, but, when a sibling is doing something dangerous, a child should tell his parents. Come up with limitations based on your own values, explaining them to your child in clear terms.
Reward good changes in behavior. Praise your child when she chooses a positive behavior in place of a previous habit of misbehavior. Use both verbal and nonverbal support to drive your child in the correct direction. For example, a child who has finally begun to make her bed after waking up -- likely due to the implementation of new family rules or limits on messiness -- should receive a hug and praise, such as “I’m proud of you” or “You’ve done a good job making your bed.” Sometimes, a small reward is in order, but remember to reward after genuine change, as a reward should be a motivator, not an expectation.