10 Behavior Principles Parents Need To Know

The most common questions I am asked by parents regards discipline include, "What's the best way to change my child's behavior?" "Why does he keep misbehaving?" and "How harsh do you have to be?"

While I will keep answering the individual questions you post, I want to also give you a list of 10 behavior principles. Here is your crash course in Behavior Makeovers 101 from one of my books, No More Misbehavin'. I hope they help.  If you have a question of your own please click here and leave a comment and it may be answered right here on my blog.


10 Behavior Principles Parents Need To Know

Most behaviors...

  1. Are learned. Some behaviors may be influenced by biological factors, but most are learned. For instance, the shy kid can learn social skills to become more confident in groups; the aggressive kid can learn anger management skills; the impulsive kid can learn skills and techniques to stop and think before he acts.
  2. Can be changed. Most behaviors can be changed by using proven research-based techniques.
  3. Need intervention. Don't expect your kid to change on his own. His behavior will most likely only get worse without your intervention. Also, don't think poor behavior is “just a fad that he'll outgrow.” You're just providing more time for your kid's bad behavior to become a habit. And then it will be even tougher to change.
  4. Take time to change. Behavior change takes time. Don't think your thirty-minute Saturday night lecture to make more than a dent in your kid's behavior on Sunday. Give you and your kid time. Remember, new behavior habits generally take a minimum of 21-days of repetition.
  5. Require commitment. Long-term commitment is necessary for any meaningful and permanent change. There's no getting around it: parenting is tough work.
  6. Must have a substitute. No behavior will change permanently unless you teach your kid another behavior to replace it. Think about it: if you tell your kid to stop doing one behavior, what will he do instead? Without a substitute behavior, chances are he'll revert to using the old misbehavior.
  7. Require a good example. Behaviors are learned best by seeing it done right. So make sure your behaviors or examples you provide are ones that you want your kid to emulate. I call that the “Boomerang Effect”: what you throw out to your kid is like a boomerang that comes back to hit you in the face.
  8. Demand practice. Behavior change requires practice. You'd never tell a kid to go out to throw a pass at a game by just handing him a football when the game is just starting. You would first have helped him practice for weeks before that. The same is true for learning any new behavior, so practice, practice, practice until he can do the new behavior on his own.
  9. Benefit from encouragement. Encourage every step along the way. The willingness to try, the first efforts and small successes, the recoveries from setbacks to the maximum amount of improvement. Behavior change is hard and deserves to be encouraged, acknowledged and celebrated.
  10. Are never too late to change. Even if the problem has been going on a long time, don't despair. Help is on the way.

Dr. Michele Borba is the author of No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them .

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