How to Help Children Control Their Negative Behaviors

Young children lack basic self-control that helps them regulate misbehavior. As children grow, however, it’s reasonable to expect them to learn rules of conduct and begin controlling emotions and actions. If issues persist, you may need to provide guidance to help your child learn how to control negative behavior. While these skills can be challenging, they are mandatory life skills that will help a child have successful relationships.

Create a stable and predictable lifestyle for your child, recommends Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D. and author of “Helping Children Learn to Regulate Their Emotions” for the University of Washington. This includes instituting clear rules of conduct, enforcing the rules with specific consequences, and providing your child with a regular routine of activities, eating and sleeping. Stability and predictability both foster security for children.

Establish a consistent routine to help your child regain control over his emotions after he loses control. You might designate a quiet spot where your child goes to sit when he becomes angry and lashes out. You might also create a signal -- a phrase you say or a gesture you perform -- that tells your child that he needs to take a breather to calm down. For best results, don’t use this time-out punitively; instead approach it as a positive way for your child to regain control. The KidsHealth website recommends allowing your child to get up as soon as he's calm again 3.

Reduce the attention you give to your child’s emotional outbursts. Children often scream, yell and cry loudly when they feel angry, scared and hurt. If you can check your response to your child’s emotions, you can remove any reinforcement you may unwittingly be giving the behavior. Deborah Richardson, Child Development Assistant Specialist with Oklahoma State University, advises that children may misbehave to receive negative attention from parents 1.

Practice empathy with your child when he experiences negative emotions. Strive to stay calm, even when your child acts out. Instead, extend caring and understanding to help your child feel your support. Resist the urge to judge or criticize your child as you extend empathy.

Provide words for your child to name his feelings, suggests Giving each feeling a name helps your child learn to identify and process his emotions more effectively. You might say, “I can hear that you are really frustrated right now. That must feel a little overwhelming.”

Explain what’s unacceptable to your child so he understands. It’s normal to feel anger and frustration, but it’s unacceptable to hurt people or damage property when he feels these emotions. Tell your child that you will help him manage and express his feelings if he will listen as you provide guidance.