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Encouraging better behaviour

Advice for parents on positive parenting methods for encouraging good behaviour in children

All children challenge the rules of behaviour they're set. This is part of growing up, learning and becoming and independent person. It takes time for a child to understand and learn how to control their behaviour.

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Positive parenting

Better behaviour can be encouraged through positive parenting methods. These methods are based on the following principles:

  • showing love and affection to your child
  • emphasising the things that please you about your child
  • teaching your child by setting a good example yourself
  • praising the behaviour you want to see in your child
  • listening to your child and working out your problems together
  • avoiding harsh punishments like smacking and excessive shouting
  • setting clear limits which are fair and age appropriate
  • expressing your wishes in a way that shows you mean what you say.

See our 'Encouraging better behaviour leaflet' for details on how to positively discipline your baby, toddler, school-age child or teenager.

Encouraging better behaviour: A practical guide to positive parenting

Our practical guide helps parents to understand why children sometimes misbehave and explains how they can develop good relationships with their children through positive parenting.

Why smacking is never a good idea

Parents may believe there are occasions when only a smack will work. For example, your child is very disobedient; your toddler runs into the road; or one of your children bites a playmate. It can be tempting to think a smack sorts out these incidents quickly, but it does nothing to teach your child about how you want them to behave.

Instead, it:

  • gives a bad example of how to handle strong emotions
  • may lead your child to hit or bully others
  • may encourage your child to lie, or hide feelings, to avoid smacking
  • can make defiant behaviour worse, so discipline gets even harder
  • leads to a resentful and angry child, damaging family relationships if it goes on for a long time.

Most parents behave in ways they later regret – be it excessive shouting or smacking. If it happens, say you're sorry, make up and try again. This teaches your child a valuable lesson.

Looking after yourself

Misbehaving children can cause a parent to become stressed and angry. To cut your own stress levels try talking about your frustrations with others, get organised and plan ahead for the stressful times, and make sure you get some time to yourself to relax. Remember, if you are stressed or angry then your child may copy your behaviour.

Becoming angry is not an effective way of disciplining your child. If you feel yourself becoming angry try some simple techniques like taking several deep breaths, counting to 10, or leaving the room. If you feel that you cannot control your anger then get help. Talk to someone about your problem or ask your doctor about anger management classes. See our leaflet: 'Keeping your cool' for more information.

Keeping your cool: Advice for parents on managing stress and anger

Most parents find bringing up their children very rewarding, but also pretty demanding. Using real-life examples and situations, this booklet describes the triggers that can cause parents to resort to shouting, harsh discipline or severe punishment. It explains the positive choices they can make to help them to control their anger, and influence children’s behaviour without creating bad feelings.

Where to find more advice

NSPCC: Advice and support for adults concerned about a child.

Family Lives: Help and support in all aspects of family life.

National Childminding Association: Support for childminders and nannies.

Parenting NI: Support for parents in Northern Ireland.

ParentLine Scotland: Support for parents in Scotland.

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