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How to teach good habits and manners to a bad kid

Updated on May 31, 2008

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As a teacher with some 20 years experience behind me, I can't say I have ever met "bad" kids. If they are "bad" there is usually a very good reason and it usually (not always but usually) due to poor parenting.

There are hundreds of books on the subject and they all have different methods but none of them will work unless you absolutely and unconditionally love your child.

Most children's poor behaviour is due to attention seeking and some crave more attention than others because they feel insecure in their parent's love (rightly or wrongly but it is their perception that matters).

Children don't misbehave without an audience and they would rather be scolded than be shown indifference. Make sure you spend quality time with them and establish a pattern of communication from an early age which will make things so much easier when they are teenagers.

The best advice is start as you mean to go on. Make them say "please" and "thank you" as soon as they can say "I want". I used to call "please" the magic word because I would be deaf to all requests unless I heard it and not let go of any requested object until I heard the other magic word "thank you". Praise them lavishly when they get it right. And "no" means "no"!

Don't make the mistake of laughing at bad behaviour which can be quite cute when they are small but not so desirable when they are older. Don't get angry but don't smile. It is your duty as a parent to teach your child right from wrong. Too many parents have abdicated that responsibility and are blaming everyone else for their sadly often very young children's out of control behaviour.

Children imitate their parents so it is quite unreasonable if you swear, for instance, to expect your children not to do the same. You have to set a good example. If you talk with your mouth full, so will they. They see you as a role-model.

Be extremely consistent. Children love parameters, rules, consistency, rituals and routines. It makes them feel secure. For instance if you decide that their bedtime is 6pm then it must be 6pm every day. If you read a bedtime story, it must be every day, not when you feel like it.

Always try to explain why you want them to do or not do something. They will remember it much better and not resent it.

Keep them occupied, stimulated and interested, plan activities that you can do together. Bored children will misbehave. Try to do a physical activity every day like sport or even a walk in nature.

I am a great advocate of positive discipline and to correct bad behaviour. It's a very simple method and it takes a while to work to full effect but the results are spectacular and permanent. It works in the classroom and at home and, unlike other methods, it leaves everyone feeling good.

It works like this. If a child does something you don't like, you wait until he either stops doing it or does the same thing in a way that you like. As soon as that happens, you immediately give him lavish praise and display a huge amount of pleasure or even give him a reward. If he returns to the offensive behaviour, you register disappointment. With time, there will be more of the good and less of the bad. Basically you "catch them at being good". That good behaviour is sometimes quite difficult to find. I'll give you an anecdote from my teaching days. I had a pupil who was a chatterbox and just would not stop talking during lessons. He wasn't loud but it was annoying and he was not doing his work properly. One day, when he had been quiet for a few minutes, I said to him. "Thomas, well done! I am really pleased with you, you have been quiet for 5 minutes and you have got on with your work. That's brilliant". Now you might think that was ironic but I actually meant it sincerely and the effect on him was nothing short of miraculous. Every subsequent lessons, he actually timed his silence and reminded me to praise him. We never had any problem after that and his work improved as a result.

Try to use positive expressions rather than negative ones. Always keep calm when telling a child off and always criticize the behaviour and not the child. It's OK to say "you are behaving stupidly" meaning you could behave intelligently if you wanted to but it is never, never OK to say "you are stupid". That way lies future trauma. You must respect your children if you want them to respect you.


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    • Ddraigcoch profile image


      10 years ago from UK

      I think positive reactions to positive behaviour is the best way. Most are far too negative. However I do have a negative hub on its way soon. I ma make me look hypocritical , but is meant to be humorous.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      im only 16 years old and my parents and i have a nice relationship... but we're not very close... and as you said, the bridge should be made from dream is to become a psychologist.i read ur article and i think you have analized it very accurately.Raising children is like paper mache. seems easy at first, mucky in the middle and the end result could be a piece of art or absolute crap. depending on the mould it sets to. its upto the parents to create the perfect mould.

      most parents just forget what it was like to be young and try to think of their kid's things from an adult's point of view. that's where they mess everything up.

      i admire u. Mrs callaghan.i like the way you think.

      - chathu

    • martinecallaghan profile imageAUTHOR

      Martine Callaghan 

      11 years ago from Edinburgh - Scotland

      Sometimes the ripple effect works with disruptive pupils. It works like this. You single out a child who is doing exactly what you want for praise. You could say something like: "Lee, I really like the way you are getting on in your work, very well done", then you pick out every single child in the vicinity of your disruptive pupil for lavish praise but you ignore him until such time as his behaviour matches your expectations.

      You can also control the physical environment by moving the child where he can disrupt least, usually the back of the class (that's seen as a punishment, an isolation from others so it's to be used when he hits others) or sit him on the side of your desk where you can lavish him with constant attention and he is well away from the others (this makes them feel special and you can use it as a reward).

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Simply brilliant. I really like the idea of noticing the good behavior in them. I teach ESL in South Korea and I have a similar situation with the child you describe. Mine just will not sit down and will not be quiet, it is a problem because other kids are starting to copy his bad behavior and distract other kinds. Other than noticing the good and not so much the bad, any ideas on how to deal with him? He is the youngest in my class and I think he feels the need for more attention but goes about it in distructive manner. I say distructive because sometimes he hits other kids.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      but i wanted a story on good habits

    • lenkasvec profile image


      12 years ago from Slovakia

      Great hub, you must be a wonderful mother. In my latest hub I deal with defiance in 2 to 4 year old children and a lot of what you say works with them as well but with our daughter we succeeded only by tight embrace. There are many ways, but you are 100% right that parents should really love and care about their children. Take care.

    • martinecallaghan profile imageAUTHOR

      Martine Callaghan 

      12 years ago from Edinburgh - Scotland

      Many thanks for your kind comments. Good parenting isn't easy. It requires patience, effort and perseverance but it's sooo rewarding.

    • Julie A. Johnson profile image

      Julie A. Johnson 

      12 years ago from Duluth, MN


      Excellent advice, and yes, children have to be kept busy then they don't have time to misbehave. An engaged child is a happy child. Thanks. Check out my hub -- Teaching chldren respect, I think you'll appreciate it! Take care.


    • profile image


      12 years ago

      very well written and helpful response. I was going to respond to the request too but I think you summed up my words quite well - and elaborated in ways I didn't think of. The advice on staying calm and starting early on teaching behavioral oopsees is really good - using facial expressions rather than vocal volume. As someone who loves and works with kids, I'm really glad I stumbled upon your article.


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