Change Kids Bad Behavior with this Quick Parenting Tip

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Parents often want to change kids bad behavior, but how can you without making the situation worse? Try this quick parenting tip the next time you find yourself yelling “STOP!” at your kids.

Change Kids Bad Behavior

At least once a day my family has a conversation that looks like this.

Big E: “Mom! She took my blaster stick! Gimmee that. It’s mine!”

Little G: “No! It’s my turn with the stick. You’ve already had a turn.”

ME: “G, give him back his stick. E! Can you just get another stick? E! Don’t hit people.”

Baby L: “I wan my Paci. I WAN MY PACI!! Waaaa!”

Usually this interaction ends with multiple wounds, tears and frustration all around. The bickering can get especially bad when I try to get my kids to do something they don’t want to do…like hike.

My kids like adventures in the outdoors, but there are times when no amount of coercing and bribery can make them do what I want.

Stop tearing apart that plant. Don’t throw rocks at each other. Stay away from the water’s edge.

In moments like these I ask myself the age old parenting question How do I get my kids to do what I want?

How Do I Get My Kids to do What I Want?

In my current journey of motherhood, I’ve relied heavily on my college training in Human Development and Psychology. While I don’t do things perfectly with my kids I have noticed certain patterns that help them change their behavior. I wanted to share these tips with you so you can have more successful outdoor (or indoor) adventures with your kids as well.

Quick parenting tip

What Doesn’t Work Well

Every parent has tried these strategies for changing a child’s behavior. While they can work sometimes, especially in the short-term, these negative reinforcement behaviors can damage your relationship in the long-term.


Anger acts like an emotional contagion. If someone close to you is angry they can pass that feeling on to you within milliseconds. Think about the last time someone cut you off in traffic or was rude to you. How did you then act toward other people you came in contact with?

This emotional contagion quality of anger is important to remember when interacting with children. When I get upset and yell at my kids, it instantly puts them into a “fight back” mode. They may yell, run away or defiantly do the exact opposite of what I want. Your children may break down into tears or become reclusive and shy. Whatever their reaction, yelling often does not produce the desired result of a change in their behavior.

Physical Relocation

On Sunday my two-year-old wanted to play with the dome light in the car instead of come into church. I said it was time to go in and picked her up. She immediately started crying, wriggling and trying to get back in the car. She then flopped onto the parking lot cement and threw the biggest two-year-old tantrum of her life. I once again picked her up to move her out of the path of incoming traffic. She became incensed – kicking, screaming, crying. Twenty minutes passed before she got up.

While physical relocation of kids is sometimes necessary to keep little ones safe, it only works as a behavior changing tool when your kids are quite young. Once they are big enough and strong enough to run away from you or fight back when you’re holding them, you’ll need other strategies to help them change.

Believe me, sometimes I wish I could physically force my eight-year-old into his room for a time out, but attempting that would be bordering on child abuse and it’s not the kind of interaction I want to have with my kids.

Grumpy Big E on a bike

Parenting Strategies that Work

Healthy relationship skills come from practice. I don’t claim to be the perfect parent. Remember that example above? A conversation like that happens EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. While I still yell and use physical relocation to attempt to change behavior, I’m trying to use the following strategies more because in the long run they’ll strengthen my relationship with my kids instead of damaging it.

Here are three strategies I use, including my number one parenting tip for changing behavior both on and off the trail.

Quality Time

If I want my kids to do what I want, I need to spend time doing what they want. Playing with them for just ten minutes each per day drastically improves the likelihood that they will do what I ask later.

When you spend time with children in a friend role instead of a dictator role, they learn that Mom and Dad love them and they are interested in their life. During this play time do NOT tell them what to do, JUST PLAY. Make believe, tag, baseball, legos, dress up, board games – let your child choose something they enjoy and play it with them.

Too often as parents we create an adult vs. kids environment. Spending time in play with your child teaches them that you’re on the same team.

Manage Core Issues

This article from Psychology Today discusses how kids are more sensitive to core issues like hunger, thirst and tiredness than adults. If my kids are refusing to hike, or acting out while on an adventure, it’s often due to one of these core issues – hunger, thirst and tiredness.

Earlier this month my family planned a three-mile hike to a waterfall. At one point my two-year-old, Baby L refused to walk, refused to go in the backpack carrier and just wouldn’t stop crying. Immediately afterward my five-year-old Little G got upset and sat on a rock for twenty minutes. It was obvious to me that the toddler felt tired – we were hiking during nap time and she’d walked a mile all on her own, but I hadn’t considered just how tired my five-year-old Little G felt until she forced me to take notice.

Rest, a snack, a drink of water and playing “I Spy” helped us all to get back on the trail within twenty minutes. I could’ve gotten frustrated with sitting on a boulder when we should’ve been moving, but instead I took a deep breath and enjoyed a little rest myself.

Change Kids Bad Behavior with this Quick Parenting Tip

Give them something better to do.

Instead of jumping right to yelling and punishment when your kids do something you don’t like, give them something better to do. It’s easy to know when to try this strategy thanks to the trigger words NO, DON’T and STOP. If I hear myself saying NO, DON’T or STOP to my kids (which happens at least 100 times a day) I know it’s time to give them something better to do instead.

Give kids something better

Stop hitting each other! becomes Who wants to help with the campfire?

Don’t destroy that tree! becomes Did you see that awesome bird?

No more yelling! becomes Hey, let’s look for animal tracks.

This method of distraction works because boredom and petty annoyances are often the cause of kids’ naughty behavior. Redirect their negative actions into a positive activity, and use your powerful words to focus on what you WANT them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.

Giving kids something better to do works with issues both small and large. Above I gave you some small issues that Research on gang prevention shows that kids that are involved in community programs or extra curricular activities are less likely to join a gang.

Let’s Get Serious

Sometimes giving your child something better to do won’t curb their bad behavior. Children are people too and sometimes they can be buttheads. Even so, I believe it’s better to try replacing their negative behavior with a suggested better alternative rather than resort to yelling, physical relocation or punishment whenever possible.

Also, one important caveat: If your child is in danger or causing physical harm to another it’s important to stop the behavior immediately. That may mean yelling at them to get back from the water’s edge or physically picking them up if you’re near a wild animal.

However many daily grievances can be addressed with this quick parenting tip to change bad behavior.

Give them something better to do.

I hope this advice can help your family in your explorations! See you in the outdoors!

~Mountain Mom

Psst…Want more posts on parenting? Check out my Motherhood Moments Page.

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Author: Mountain Mom

Hi! I'm Mountain Mom. I live with my husband and three young kids in the mountains near Sundance, Utah. When we're not hiking, biking, skiing and camping, I spend my time doing Mom stuff and reading. Summer of 2016 we traveled over 7,000 miles along the US National Park to Park Highway.

4 thoughts on “Change Kids Bad Behavior with this Quick Parenting Tip”

  1. I needed this yesterday! I’m normally really good(at least I think so) with Dragon and am able to work around his threenager behavior, but I said no and stop so many times I had to take a time out myself and just cry. Seriously! I had a friend take him up trail and I sat on a log and just let the emotions out. It’s hard bc as I’m sure most moms do, I strive to be an awesome mom, he is my top priority at all times, to a fault sometimes, but I lost our first born so it’s taught me to treasure every second of life with his little brother. So when I’m not being so awesome, mom guilt is exaggerated bc I’m a bereaved mom. Taking that time out for myself, getting those emotions out, helped me return to regular mom state and work towards being awesome again. Hopefully that all made sense. I’m going to be sure next time I remember to use this tool in this situation! Thanks Susan!

    1. “When I’m not being so awesome” I love that phrase you used! It shows you have a realistic view of motherhood and can give yourself some slack. We all need it.

  2. Susan! Very nice article. We just spent a week camping on the edge of Lake Michigan at Point Beach State Park. Along our adventure, there were plenty of these: STOP! NO! and KNOCK IT OFF! heard coming from our campsite. I definitely needed this read; thanks!

  3. Oh my goodness – what a great article on parenting! My kids are grown and my husband and I have been blessed with 9 grandchildren, 1 great granddaughter and 1 great grandson on the way! I really understand what you are saying! Yelling never did the trick for my kids and most of my grandkids! I had to change the subject, distract them in some way, as you have mentioned! My grand kids, (although they are perfect in a grandmother’s eyes) sometimes need a little persuasion, a push in the right direction. Thanks so much for your article. This really made my day! It re-affirmed my thoughts and actions. You are a great Mom!

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