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Parenting Feature Articles


Guiding children's behavior

Adapted by Kim Leon, Ph.D., former Human Development Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri


Guiding children involves many tasks. Parents are responsible for identifying and enforcing reasonable limits, while gradually giving freedom to children by encouraging them to be responsible for themselves. A positive approach helps teach young children coping skills and self-control while discouraging inappropriate behavior.

Although children seek freedom from rules and limits at an early age, they still need guidance and structure. Their growth as individuals depends on making choices and facing the consequences of their decisions. As parents, we can never have too many skills for guiding our children. Preventing misbehavior takes planning and preparation.

Effective discipline focuses on the development of the child and preserves the child's dignity and self-esteem. The following skills provide some suggestions for setting appropriate limits for children.

Give your children choices.


This is an easy way to help children develop decision-making skills and nurture self-discipline. Only give choices you are willing to permit, for example, "Would you like apple slices or raisins for your snack today?" or "Would you like to take your bath before or after we read a story tonight?"

Use more do's than don'ts.

You might think in terms of giving a child a 'green light' instead of 'red lights'. Say "Come hold my hand" instead of "Don't touch anything."

Set only necessary limits.

What is important? What limits are necessary for the child to be safe?

Set reasonable limits.

Is the child capable? Many times our expectations are too high and need to be shifted to fit the child's abilities.

Make your limits simple and clear.

Everyone can benefit from specific directions about rules and limits. Provide information that is adequate as well as understandable to both the child and other family members.

Be consistent with your limits.

The rule should be the same from day-to-day. Rules should change as the child grows and becomes more self-disciplined.

Praise and encourage children.

This promotes learning, independence and positive self-esteem.

Set a good example.

Children learn more by role modeling adults than in any other way.

When children ask "why," explain things in simple terms.

Use natural or logical consequences.

This gives children an opportunity to learn from the choices they make. When children damage something, they need to help fix or clean up their mistakes.

Redirect children by teaching them a different way of doing the same thing.

"You can build a fort in the living room, but not on the kitchen table."


Adapted from "Guiding Children" by Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, and "Positive Discipline FAQ's" by ParentLink.


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Last Updated 06/24/2014