We Want Your Feedback!

Please give us feedback on one of our weekly question and answer articles. We value your time so the evaluation will only take 3 minutes or less, we promise!

Take the Survey »

Tips for Correcting a Child’s Misbehavior

By Lisa Schainker, Extension Assistant ProfessorFather and Son Talking

One of the most challenging things for many parents is figuring out how to deal with their child’s misbehavior. It can be incredibly frustrating for parents when children don’t do what they ask or do just the opposite of what they want them to do. While there is no manual specifically for your child, this article explains why some commonly used strategies don’t work, and guidance that is backed by research on what to do instead.

First, let’s look at some strategies that don’t work.

  • Threats. Threats are often used as a way to get children to behave; however, when parents do not follow through on what they said was going to happen, they are teaching their child that they don’t really mean what they say. Some examples of threats are, “You better stop crying right now, or else…,” or “I’m going to take away your phone for good if you don’t put it away right now.” Telling your child that you are going to do something that you never intend to do isn’t helpful because they are likely to test you to call your bluff.
  • Bribes. The basic definition of a bribe is that the reward is given before the desired behavior occurs. A bribe might sound like, “If I give you a piece of candy, will you stop screaming?” This teaches children that all they have to do to get what they want is misbehave and then promise to stop. Another example might be, “I will let you have extra screen time now if you promise to do your homework later.” This teaches a child that they simply have to say they will do something in the future to get what they want right now.
  • Spanking. Physical punishment, such as spanking has been shown to be both ineffective and harmful to children. In fact, research has shown that spanking is actually associated with more aggression and problem behavior as well as an increased chance of mental health problems in children (Gershoff, 2013). One theory as to why spanking doesn’t work is that it basically teaches children that when the threat of physical punishment exists, they should behave, but once the threat is gone, they have no reason to behave appropriately (Hoffman, 1983).

Instead of using the ineffective strategies just discussed, try using the following practices that research has shown to work:

  • Consequences. The consistent use of logical consequences can be a valuable tool when it comes to changing a child’s behavior. They will begin to learn that their choice led to a result (good or bad). Parents can use positive consequences, or rewards, to reinforce desired behaviors, and negative consequences to reduce the likelihood of undesired behaviors. Positive consequences don’t have to cost money, they can be related to privileges they earn, a fun activity with you, or even taking away a chore. Negative consequences, on the other hand, might include having to do extra jobs around the house or losing privileges.
  • Timeouts. Timeouts can be effective for younger and older children alike. Although a timeout is usually looked at as a consequence, it is actually a strategy that helps your child to emotionally “reset.” When they are experiencing strong emotions, they are often unable to listen to you, think rationally, or do what you want. Once they have had time to calm down, they are more likely to follow through with your request.
  • Consistency. Consistency is key when it comes to correcting behavior. Imagine how confusing it would be if your boss got mad at you for doing something one day and then watched you do the same thing the next day and didn’t say a word about it. The same thing happens to our kids when we give them mixed messages. Although it is hard to do, they are likely to learn much faster when we consistently respond the same way to the same behavior.

Finally, it is important to mention that one of the most important factors that influences our ability as parents to effectively correct our children’s behavior is the quality of our relationship with them. This means that you notice and verbally recognize positive behaviors often, you show empathy by letting them know that you understand they are having a hard time before correcting their behavior, and you make them feel like you are on their side no matter what. While you may need to correct undesired behaviors in the moment, focusing on the long-term goal of building a positive relationship will go a long way toward reducing how often you have to deal with these behaviors in the future.


Barnes, B. A., & York, S. M. (2015). Common sense parenting of toddlers and preschoolers (2nd ed.). Boys Town Press.

Gershoff E. T. (2013). Spanking and child development: We know enough now to stop hitting our children. Child Development Perspectives, 7(3), 133–137. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12038

Hoffman, M, L. (1983) Affective and cognitive processes in moral internalization. In E. T. Higgens, D. N. Ruble, & W. W. Hartup (Eds.), Social cognition and social development (pp.236-274). Cambridge University Press; New York.