6 Steps to Curb Misbehavoir


I have a good friend, Chrisy. She was my first parent educator at PEP (the Parent Encouragement Program), and it is not hyperbole to say that she changed my life. Not only is she an excellent parent educator, she is also a loving and great mom to three children. And since two of her children are older than mine, I often look to her for guidance and reassurance.

The moment every mother dreads

She has given me so many valuable nuggets of wisdom over the years, and one of the most valuable pieces of advice she ever gave me, came at a crucial time.

My eldest child was six and a half, and the eye-rolling, sighing, and outright sassiness was beginning to pick up speed. My formerly respectful, sweet, even-tempered, and compliant girl was turning into a teenager before my eyes.

I was telling Chrisy about the burgeoning sassiness with exasperation and fatigue. She looked me in the eye and told me "Nip it in the bud."

"What does mean?" I asked her. 

"Don't wait and chalk it up to normal developmental stuff. She is not four years old anymore." 


was allowing it to slide and I was trying to wait it out. I was hopefully (and lazily) thinking it would get better. What was happening was a habit of her disrespectful behavior and my anger....the cycle was going round and round. 

So, what exactly does "nip it in the bud" mean when a parent educator says it to another parent educator?

Here are a couple of steps to consider:

1) Everything must be grounded in love and empathy.  This is an attitude switch from "this child is trying to make me angry," to "this child wants my attention and her misbehavior is working." Love and empathy are the foundations that allow you to do this hard work. If you are too angry, you cannot complete these steps. It will turn into punishment and shame, hence making everything worse.

2) You call a meeting with your older child. In this meeting, you let him know that you have noticed these behaviors and that they are increasing in frequency and duration. You emphasize that this is not okay in your family; this is not how people speak to one another. You say, "From the now on, if you speak to me like this, we will leave wherever we are. I will not warn you or lecture you. We will simply leave."

3) When rudeness occurs, you must stick to your word and leave. If you do not leave, you are teaching your child that your words and intentions have no meaning behind them. The child will be left feeling in charge. 

4) It is equally important when leaving that you do it kindly and quietly. No whisper-yelling, no spanking, no "what did I tell you was going to happen?" No: "You are embarrassing me and this whole family!" Just usher the child away, looking straight ahead.

The child will beg for another chance...stay silent. The child may try to hit you...keep yourself safe and keep going. The child may cry and really start to scream...keep going. Don't negotiate. Don't give in and don't shame the child. As the parent, remember to breath and keep your focus. This will be extraordinarily difficult at first, but repetition will bring ease.

5) Finally, after the child calms down and you feel relaxed and positive, hug them. Tell them you love them. DO NOT LECTURE THEM. If the child cries or says sorry, say, "I forgive you and I know it will be better next time." You may not feel confident when you say this, but say it anyway. You have to be the person who believes that it can be better; your child needs you to do this. 

6) Congratulate yourself for doing this hard work.  You will be emotionally and physically exhausted, but you held your boundary kindly and firmly.  This is the work of parenting, and you will be rewarded (just not when you think!)

Plan something fun and kind for yourself while you are doing this kind of work -- you've earned it!


A mother of three young children and a parent coach, Meghan Leahy teaches parenting techniques to both individuals and groups in the Washington D.C. area, as well as all over the country. Meghan is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post parenting blog "On Parenting." To find out more, please visit Positively Parenting.








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