The (not so) secret formula to well-behaved kids

Parents often comment how their children happily follow instructions at Jumbo, but at home are expert at doing the opposite! Some parents even call it ‘home devils and childcare angels’. And we have to admit, all children know, very early on, how to press their parents’ buttons.

While we don’t have a magical secret formula to get children to be well behaved, we do use positive behaviour management techniques that are useful for both parents and teachers. Positive behaviour management is the use of positive and consistent guidance, direction and clear expectations.

Basically we try and follow a simple rule which is ‘don’t say don’t’. This approach is a lot easier said than done. It takes time and practice but works wonders, so we have put together these 5 childcare-proven positive behaviour management techniques that you can use at home to help children self-regulate and cooperate:

  • Use positive language

Many of us fail to reflect on the way we present information. For instance, we set rules and limits through negative commands like “don’t run”. Inevitably, this often leads to the desired outcome being lost or flat out being ignored.

Through positive language, we always give the direction of the behaviour we want to see, instead of just the closed statement that comes with a ‘don’t’ sentence. We know that ‘don’t’ statements have a matching ‘do’ statement, and the latter’s intent is to not only manage or alter the behaviour, but to teach the correct one.

As an example, before we walk down the ramp, we remind the children about the clear expectation that, for their safety and the safety of those around them, they will need to walk down the ramp.  Walking even though we’re super excited to be going outside to play!

When a child or children inevitably still run down the ramp, instead of saying “Stop, don’t run down the ramp”, we say “Stop, remember we need to walk down the ramp, we must always walk down the ramp”. Ultimately if something can be said in a positive way, it is always going to be received better and result in improved behaviour.

  • Reinforce good behaviour

Individual reinforcement involves rewarding desirable behaviour. At childcare and kindergarten rewards can include positive reinforcement statements, being a special helper, and tokens such as stickers and the like. Yet, rewards can be as simple as giving praise.

Praise is easy to give when good behaviours are present, but when confronted with challenging ones, it is amazing how quickly we can lose sight of the positives and hear the word “don’t” leaving our mouth all too often. It gets easier with practice and as it becomes a common frame of mind for parents, like teachers, to consciously focus on praising positive conduct we’ll reduce confrontation and incentivise correct behaviours.

For example, when visiting a friend on a play date, if your child wants to take their toy remind them what the correct behaviour is (give the toy back) and praise them for it when they do. You could say something like, “Say thank you to your friend, Stacey, for sharing her Buzz Lightyear with you and remember to give it back” Then, “Good job on giving back Stacey’s Buzz Lightyear, what a good job you do of sharing.”

  • Validate their concerns to reach partial agreements

This technique lets your child know that they are effectively communicating with you. The simple phrase, “I understand, but I need you to…” is empathetic and assertive in equal measure. For example, “I understand you would like the chocolate bar, but I need you to put the chocolate bar back on the shelf as you have already had one today and too many chocolate bars can give you an upset tummy…”. By showing an interest rather than dismissing concerns, our interactions are less antagonistic and gives us a moment to distract from, and somewhat earth the emotional outburst before stepping in to solve the problem immediately.

  • Provide them with choice

This sounds easy but it can be challenging to implement. Most parents will offer their children one of two options: behave or get a punishment. However, we must realise that this does not really offer a choice at all; punishment is the only alternative.

By offering two positive outcomes, children retain a level of control, allowing them to follow instructions somewhat on their own terms. For example, if a child brings out a toy brought from home we can offer two positive options such as “Sasha, you know that we leave our special toys at home to keep them safe so please put that car on my desk or in your bag until home time”.

  • Redirect behaviour to achieve positive outcomes

Remind the children of what they should be doing and try to avoid getting involved in discussions about what they are doing wrong. This helps to steer and focus their attention on the required task.

For example, focusing on positive outcomes through “When-then” statements is a helpful tool. Rather than saying, “No you cannot sit down for lunch, because you have not washed your hands.” it becomes “When you have washed your hands, you can sit down with your friends and have lunch together”.


Consistently using positive language, staying focused on positive outcomes and reinforcing good behaviour are the keys to cooperative, team player and happy children. Try these out yourself and introduce one strategy at a time to make the transition easier for you and your child.