Top Behavior Strategies

With a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and not enough time to spread across my three children, along with dishes and laundry (Oh, how I despise them!  The chores, not the children!), behavior is always a challenge.

I often have those days where we have back to back appointments from 8:00am to 5:00pm, which means the kids are tired and hungry, and did you know that can make behavior more challenging?  Huh.

So, what is a mother to do when pushing a stroller and the other two children just want to throw themselves on the pediatrician’s floor and cry?  Cry with them!  OK, I can’t actually do that.  But I want to.

When behavior in public gets really bad, I’m usually equally tired and likely malnourished, and the brain doesn’t work like it should.  Somewhere in there, I have the tools, but in that moment, I can’t find ANY of them.

So, as a reminder to me, and possibly a help to you, here are a few strategies that tend to work for us:


1.    Bring Treats

These can be anything yummy the kids almost never get to have, which for us are fruit snacks.  I panic if I don’t have any in the diaper bag.  If the boys won’t comply with my instructions (sit down, hold my hand, get in the car, sit in your car seat), I tell them they can have a treat if they complete the desired task.  If I know it’s going to be a really hard day, I’ll bring extra special items, like rice krispie treats.  Sometimes one child is obstinate, and pretends to not want a treat, but see, I have two kids, and one cannot bear to see the other enjoy a treat.  Tricky if you only have one kid.  Hey, I know!  You can borrow one of mine!

2.    Give Two Options

Preschoolers are more compliant when they they have some amount of control over the situation.  I remember a friend telling me she would take her niece out for lunch and offer her two menu items: a grilled cheese sandwich, or a hot cheese sandwich.  The niece loved picking which one she wanted.  When I’m out, I have the baby in the stroller, with the four and two-year-olds helping me push the stroller.  For safety reasons, I need them to hold on.  If one of them refuses to push the stroller, I give him two options: hold on to the stroller handle, or hold on to the side of the stroller.


At home, if they don’t want to eat, sometimes I’ll ask if they want a spoon or a fork, and they’ll eat with the utensil they chose.  If they protest bedtime, I’ll show them two books and ask them to choose which one to read.  Decision-making distracts them from what they’re upset about.

3.    Feed Them

Almost as important as bringing treats, is bringing food.  They are often having trouble controlling themselves because something else is controlling them.  Their stomach!  It’s easy to say “Take snacks with you everywhere you go,” but it isn’t easy to do a lot of prep and packing, and they don’t fit in your bag easily.  I am finally at the point where we are out literally all day, so we pack a ton of food.  Even if hunger isn’t the culprit, food is distracting.  They’ll soon forget how mad they are that they can’t agree on the color of a car they saw.


4.    Sing a Song

If they are protesting while you are doing something to them (changing a diaper, feeding him, cleaning his face, styling his hair, making fabulous crafts with his hand), sing a silly song.  It’s hard to be upset when someone is singing a song you like to sing, or when Mom or Dad is being silly.


5.    Get Physical

Not aggressively.  Not even Olivia Newton John.  And don’t go YouTube that video, like I did.  I regret it.  Not so much when we’re out in public, but when we’re home, I have the cranky kids jump or dance.  They need to wiggle the grumpies out.



2 comments for “Top Behavior Strategies

  1. Linda R
    September 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Heartily agree with offering the choices and singing. When they get a little older, they will do anything to KEEP you from singing and embarrassing them, LOL. Another good one is setting a timer. For some reason, they understood when the timer went off, we had to leave the park, but if Mom said it, there would be whining.

    • September 18, 2013 at 11:25 pm

      A timer is definitely a handy tool. It helps a lot with transitioning, and I give them warnings that we are going to moving on to something else in 5 min, 2 min, 1 min, etc, so they are mentally and emotionally prepared when the time comes.

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