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Family Life

  1. Be selective about disciplining, and keep things in perspective. Behavior that causes physical or emotional harm to a child or others merits a lot of parental effort. Minor irritating behavior should receive little attention.
  2. Avoid these common mistakes:
    • Parents may inadvertently punish good behavior or at least fail to reinforce good effort. For example, if their child im­proves her grades, raising them all to C's, they may ask, "Why didn't you get B's?" 
    • They may reward or reinforce bad behavior. This often oc­curs when a child continually whines and pleads and then finally gets her way. 
    • They may fail to reward good behavior. For instance, a child might wash the dishes and fail to be praised for accom­plishing this task.
    • They may fail to stop a child's bad behavior, or they may ra­tionalize it. Perhaps one sibling is hurting another; the par­ent may respond, "Well, she deserved it," or "She needs to learn to fight back."
  3. Reward and punish specific behavior. Focus on the behavior, and do not criticize the child as a person ("You are such a bad child"). 
  4. Use punishments sparingly, and only when you are in control of your emotions. Physical punishment is harmful and not productive.
  5. Children frequently experience physical and emotional stress, which can result in behavioral problems. Be sensitive to this issue, and try to eliminate the sources of stress.
  6. Some children exhibit behavioral problems because they have not been taught or have not experienced appropriate al­ternative behavior. Teach them other, more acceptable ways to behave and respond ("If I shouldn't do this, then what should I do instead?").
  7. Look beyond the concrete behavior the child is exhibiting, and understand what she might be trying to tell you. Recog­nize that sometimes a child's worrisome behavior is a signal that she or the family is in pain. She may be the designated family "messenger," and her behavior may be a cry for help for the entire family.
  8. Recognize the state of your own emotions and your coping ability when confronting your child's behavior. That state may range from feeling competent and secure to feeling de­pressed and helpless. This recognition and self-awareness will help you decide if you need help or not.
  9. Seek professional help when you think it is necessary. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome. This profes­sional input can also often provide reassurance that you are doing the right thing.


Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.