Changing Bad Behavior

It can be frustrating if you tell your children to do something and they don’t do it. But as a parent, you can change your child’s behavior through calm, clear commands. There are also times when ignoring, time out, or sticker charts may be helpful tools.

How To Make Your Commands Work

  1. Get close to your child and look at them.
  2. Get down on their level and touch them gently.
  3. Be calm and tell them what to do.
  4. Be clear.
  5. Praise your child as soon as they do what you told them to do. For example: Five-year-old Ben is on top of the kitchen counter. Mother goes over to Ben, touches his arm and says quietly, “Ben, get off the counter now.” When Ben gets down, Mother says, “I like the way you listened and got off the counter.” She gives Ben a hug.

When to Ignore

When you don’t like what your child is doing but it is not causing harm (for example: whining, making silly noises), just ignore it! You can respond by not responding. Children often stop bad behavior when you ignore them, since they are just looking for attention. To do this you can:

  1. Look away from your child.
  2. Move away from your child.
  3. Do not show any reaction.
  4. Ignore your child completely.
  5. Stay calm.
  6. Make sure that other people in the room ignore the behavior.

Note: Parents should not ignore a child if they are causing physical harm.


Use time-out to stop bad behavior and to help your child gain inner control. Do not use it as a punishment. Use it to help your child calm down.

Time-out works best for big behavior problems, like hitting or out-of-control screaming. Try using time-out when all else fails. Here’s how:

  1. Calmly tell your child what they are doing wrong and how you want them to behave. Do not argue with them.
  2. Put them in a quiet place for time-out. Facing the corner and bedrooms are not recommended. Use a special place like a chair in the hall or the last step of a staircase.
  3. Keep your child in time-out for one minute per each year of your child’s age. It should last between 3-10 minutes. You can use a timer to keep track of the time.
  4. Tell your child: “Time-out begins when you are quiet. You need to stay in a quiet place where you can calm down.” Let them know that they are there to gain control of their behavior. It’s OK to sit with your child if that will help them calm down.5. When timeout is over and they have calmed down, praise your child for gaining control.6. Don’t lecture your child. Let them go back to what they were doing.

Sticker Charts

As opposed to disciplining your child for bad behavior, sticker charts are a good tool for rewarding children good behavior. Tell children how the chart will work and how they have to behave to get their stickers. When they earn a certain number of stickers, give them a special reward that you have chosen together. Sticker charts can help your kids learn to make their beds, clean up, do homework, etc. Here’s how to use them:

  1. Tell your child what they have to do to get a sticker. For example: They must make their bed each morning.
  2. Make a chart with your child. Let them help make the chart and pick stickers (or you can just draw stars.)
  3. Let your child help decide what reward they will get after he gets enough stickers on the chart.
  4. Put a star or sticker on the chart each time they do what they are supposed to do.
  5. Praise them as soon as possible.
  6. Start by making it easy for them to get stickers.
  7. Then add to the number of stickers it takes for your child to earn the reward.
  8. Do not use a sticker chart for more than four weeks at a time.


UPMC also offers several parenting workshops, both virtual and in-person in the Pittsburgh area. A list of current classes and workshops can be found on this page.