How to Treat Anti Social Behavior in Kids

Parents who notice their children engaging in anti-social behavior should take steps to treat this problem earlier rather than later as anti-social behavior can continue into adulthood. Much of the anti-social behavior in children stems from factors that parents can correct. If you're the parent of an anti-social kid, setting clear rules and limits can positively influence your child’s behavior.

Put firm limits in place. Give your child clear expectations in terms of what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. In many cases, an anti-social child engages in unacceptable behavior simply because he has a poor notion of limits. Let your child know that breaking rules has consequences; specify the consequences to make sure he understands.

Explain to your child, in age-appropriate terms, why rules should be followed. Avoid using authority as a reason, as children are unlikely to appreciate a reason such as “because I said so.” Instead, explain the reason through his point of view. If your child has a problem with destroying others’ property, for example, discuss how he would feel if other people broke his things. Present your rules as a mean of protecting things rather than limiting behavior.

Follow up on consequences. If your child breaks a rule that you clearly discussed with him, apply the consequence. Remember not to use violence in a punishment, especially for anti-social children. Anti-social children are often prone to using violence as a problem-solver -- parents who punish through violence reinforce the belief that violence solves problems. While punishment is important in solidifying the belief that rules are serious, it should be reasonable to the child. For example, if your child has a problem with destroying toys, consider temporarily confiscating some of her favorite toys, citing concerns that she might break them.

Know your child’s playmates. If anti-social behavior continues after you’ve instituted clear rules, the cause may be an outside influence. Get familiar with your child’s playmates to make sure he is not emulating the anti-social behavior of his peers. Do whatever it takes to separate your child from an influential, anti-social playmate, but start with a heart-to-heart discussion with your child. Explain how peer pressure can be dangerous and that he should not play with children who are violent or destructive. As Edward Dragan notes in the “Bully Action Guide,” anti-social behavior is addictive and can spiral out of control if parents don’t intervene 1. Get involved as soon as possible.


If your child is engaging in life-threatening or criminal behavior, consult a professional psychologist.