The Surprising Secret to Raising a Well-Behaved Kid

Build Problem-Solving Skills

child reflecting on behavior

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

One of the major reasons children behave badly is because they feel frustrated and powerless. "When you give children the tools they need to figure things out on their own, they will behave better because they'll be better equipped to take care of themselves and won't come screaming to you or act out every time they encounter a challenge," says Dr. Brooks.

  • Let kids make decisions. Give children the opportunity to make choices as soon as they're old enough to understand. Ask, "Do you want to wear your Elmo pajamas or your nightgown?" "Which snack do you want to take to school, an apple or a cheese stick?" Once kids can manage these small decisions, take it up a notch: If your child is fighting with her sister, for example, instead of yelling "Don't do that!" or giving her a time-out, Dr. Brooks suggests asking: "How can you handle this differently?" You may be surprised at the way she will come up with solutions.
  • Encourage a "try, try again" attitude. "Sure, it's a lot quicker for you to do everything for them, but it's important to let preschoolers practice and succeed without your intervention -- whether it's tying their shoes, putting away toys, or sorting socks in the laundry," says Donna M. Genett, PhD, author of Help Your Kids Get It Done Right at Home and at School!
  • Make them think things out. Stretch your child's cognitive skills by challenging him to find answers for himself. For example, when your child asks a question about how to do something, respond with a question of your own: "What do you think you should do?" Such a response will eventually give him confidence in his own ability to figure things out.

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