Effectively Managing a Child's Behavior

Child Behavior


If there were a genuine shortcut to raising children, kids would be ready to go off on their own by age two. If this concept appeals to you, I recommend that you change species, for a two year old cat, dog or cow is fully adult.

Whales, elephants, and, er, humans seem to take a rather long time to mature. Given that your offspring are not REALLY the animals they sometimes appear to be, and that they are therefore going to be hanging about for some time, here are some techniques that may prove useful in the everyday trenches of childrearing. We will start with the emergency procedure first.

Technique The First: NIACIN
This is not in any of the how-to-raise-kids books that I’ve ever seen, but it’s extremely important. Give niacin (vitamin B-3) to fussy children, and fussy teenagers. How much? Just enough to barely “flush” them. The full technique is described in detail elsewhere on this website ( http://www.doctoryourself.com/hoffer_niacin.html and http://doctoryourself.com/niacin.html ), but the crux of it is that the inevitable “hot flash” experience indicates saturation of niacin. When a child is at niacin saturation, they are biochemically mellowed out inside.  Niacin is the preeminent natural, safe, cheap, all-purpose anti-depressant/anti-anxiety/anti-psychotic vitamin. ( http://doctoryourself.com/hoffer_ABC.html )

If you still think that the only way to handle kids in difficult situations (or difficult kids in normal situations) is to either whack them or grin and bear it, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity. Try some niacin, starting with, say, 25 milligrams per dose, with doses every 10 minutes until the child cools off . . .  or rather, gets warm. If the child does not want to take it, these steps may help: Take some niacin yourself (about 50-100 mg), right in front of the child.  Not only does this set a good example, it is also fair, and will calm YOU down as well. That will make the entire situation that less volatile.

Technique The Second: ONE, TWO, THREE COUNT
Time honored but somehow still largely unknown, master teachers and expert parents have been using this system for decades. My mom (a history teacher during WWII) used this on my brothers and me back in the 1950s. She also tried other, less effective methods, as we all have.  Too bad, for this technique alone, consistently performed, is entirely adequate and utterly nonviolent.

It works like this:

Tell your child that you are going to give them three strikes before they are “out” and sent to their room for 15 minutes. The first time your child says or does anything you do not want her to, say “One.” The very next time it happens, say “Two.” The third time, say “Three” (or “Take 15,” or “Time out,” or whatever suits you). At this, the child is to go directly to, and stay in, their room for the duration of the penalty. It’s just like in a hockey game, but count them long before any teeth are missing. 10 minutes for a little kid, 15 minutes for a pre-teen, and 20 minutes for a young teenager is a good rule of thumb.

Initially, you may have to take the child to his room, and endure howls of misery and injustice emanating therefrom. Just shut the door, set a kitchen timer, and leave. If the child comes out, take him back in and restart the timer. If you feel that you are having a really tough time with your child, I most earnestly recommend an immediate reading of 1,2,3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan, Ph.D.
Better yet, watch his video tape of the same title. It is extremely well done, and I guarantee you will see your child in the many examples shown. (Incidentally, I have no financial connection whatsoever with this or any other author, publisher or distributor.)

Technique The Third: PARENT, KNOW THYSELF
My shorthand kid-management system is basically this:

Decide what you want. 
Make it clear to all concerned. 
See that you get it.
Put a time on it.
Put a consequence on it.

Deciding what you want is more important than it sounds. For years, I have told students that if you do not understand the question, you cannot possibly get the right answer. If adults do not know what really matters to them personally, they have little hope of achieving fulfillment. Sample starters: If money were no object, what would you do with your life? What always makes you happy? Who do you most admire, and why? If you had three wishes, what would they be? What do you think about before going to sleep? What’s first on your mind when you awake? What did your parents never have that you want your children to have? I’ll bet you can quickly add to this list.

Making it clear to all concerned stops an age-old communication problem dead in its tracks. Do not wait to be asked; express a need in simple, unambiguous terms. Then be prepared to listen for the other person’s needs, too. Tactical hint: for best results, reverse these steps. Listen first, and restate what the other person has said to show them they have been understood. THEN state your needs to a now much more receptive set of ears.

It is probably best to limit your need-expressing to two or three at a time.  Pick the ones you cannot live without right up front.

See that you get it. Be honest: are you on the path towards your deepest, most honest goals? Are you in a relationship that enlivens your life? Is there a better job for you? For parents, asking yourself, “What single action can I take today to enrich my life?” can also be surprisingly productive, especially after you see that one met goal per day is 30 met goals in only a month.

And specifically as regards raising children: Be consistent. The Last Emperor’s tutor told him that, “If you do not say what you mean, you will never mean what you say.”  Do you mean what you say? When I was a student teacher, my excellent mentor, Hugh Ratigan, Ed.D, early taught me that follow-through is the big one. If you say it, you have to do it. To avoid this dilemma: shut up. I cannot tell you how many times I found Mark Twain’s advice to be right on the money, especially: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  If you make a rule, you have to enforce it. My personal solution to this has been to keep the rules to very few. Only the important stuff deserves your enforcement.  Having had 37 teenagers in a chemistry laboratory, I am here to tell you that safety and cooperation rules are essential.  My masters-degree wielding adult children will probably concur.

Putting a time on it always helps you focus on the present and be here now. That timer technique, mentioned above, is part of it for the kids.  Time limits on telephone, video games, and television are reasonable and appropriate. I feel that making sure that children are home at a specific time is very important. We had a clipboard by the front door for signing out and in. This is not tyrannical, for it only takes a minute for a kid to put their initials, their destination, and a friend’s name or phone number down on a notepad. My son, even as a teenager, said that he would definitely do this with his own kids. That may be the highest form of praise.  I’m glad we agreed on something!

Put a consequence on it.  I think this goes without saying . . . much. Consequences that work all share one common feature: they are non-violent.  Spanking and hitting simply do not work. Time-outs work. Fines on allowances work. Suspending TV privileges works. Other negative consequences may be created by the children themselves. This, by the way, is one of the oldest and sneakiest teacher tricks in the book: Let the kids make the consequences. You will be surprised how strict they can be with themselves. Have them write the code down themselves. Copy it and post it all over the house.

Do not forget positive consequences. One of my favorite aphorisms is “Really surprise someone today: catch them doing something right.” Kids of all ages love praise. I learned this from watching Mr. Fred Rogers, and even used it when I taught at two state penitentiaries. It worked, of course. He wrote me a wonderful personal letter, part of which I reprint below:

“What a pleasure to hear how much our Neighborhood messages continue to mean to you in your work with the students in prison. It was very touching to know how much your students appreciate (it) when you let them know they are valuable and important. The need for messages like that is at the core of all of us, no matter how old we are or what our life circumstances are. It was interesting to see the variations of (the many ways to say) ‘very good.’ A number of years ago, one of my friends taught child development classes in the State Penitentiary here in Pittsburgh. We often talked about his students, and I visited there, too. I can understand how much your care must mean to the people whose lives you touch.”

Aside from making my day, Mr. Rogers’ letter reinforced how true it is that people of all ages respond to praise. Everybody wants to be liked.  Kids will work hard for a teacher’s approval, the smiles as much as grades. Adults will work hard for a spouse’s approval. It is a bit hard to fathom it at times, but your own children work harder if your can give them approval, too.

I suggest the following: Promptly reward good behavior in a tangible way. Gifts, favorite activities, spending money, a meal out, parent-made “coupons” (I call them “perk tickets”) good for special privileges, and other sure child- and teen-pleasers are worth using from time to time. Thank-you’s and hugs are for all the time!

When I was a boy, my father and mother told me that I could not go far wrong if I followed these guidelines:

Your health FIRST
Your family SECOND
Your job (or, for kids, your schoolwork) THIRD

I figured out myself that everything else is FOURTH. (As a now-experienced parent, I am now persuaded to add this to this list: "TV last!")

HEALTH includes getting plenty of sleep, eating proper meals, exercise, taking appropriate amounts of vitamin food supplements, and, an organized system of relaxation and self-improvement, such as meditation or prayer. These are life's first duties. You are obligated to take care of your soul and body in order to do anything else, so health is number one.

FAMILY is second place. It is second only because if you are not healthy and well rested, you cannot be at your best as a spouse or as a parent. 

"Family" may be divided into two parts, I think. Priority "2-A" would be your spouse, and children would follow a close but definite second as "2-B."  It is important for all, especially kids, to understand that Mom and Dad loved each other first, and children came along next. Children exist because of a couple's initial love for each other. The couple must therefore have the higher priority. A happy couple will be an automatic benefit to the children.  A couple began as "the two of us," and so will it be again when the kids leave home. The marriage relationship needs to come first. There are enough divorces to show that too often it doesn't. 

JOB or schoolwork takes third place. This can be of profound help to harried breadwinners and anxious students. Most of us have been, or will be, both. As a kid, it helped me to know that staying up very late to do homework was not the answer. It was also not permitted by my parents. If we were exhausted, the homework did not get done. If we put it off until the last minute, we had a problem. I'd like to say that my brothers and I therefore never put off homework, but that isn't true. What we did learn was that it was wise to begin our homework early.

In college, I'd head for the library right after my last class and do as much studying before supper as possible. Right after supper, it was back to the library. This may sound like a scholarly, blah existence. Consider this, though: by about seven o'clock or so, I was walking OUT of the library when most everyone else was walking IN. I was done, with the evening free before me. They hadn't even begun.

The day my daughter was born there was a big event at work lasting from noon until almost midnight. It was important financially and had been long planned in advance. At 9 AM I was at the hospital with my 1-hour old baby girl and I checked the priority list. I picked family over job, did not go to work that day, and lost money. I've frequently looked back on that decision with no regrets. Every single time I see my daughter, I know I had my priorities straight. It was only one day, but it means a lot to me now. The company that I then worked for has since gone out of business.

My son was conveniently born on the Thanksgiving holiday.

Canter, Lee (1985)  Assertive Discipline for Parents, revised edition. Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-859836-X

Cott, A., Agel, J. and Boe, E. (1985) Dr. Cott's Help for Your Learning Disabled Child: The Orthomolecular Treatment. Times Books, New York

Ginott, Haim G. (1976) Between Parent and Child  Morrow/Avon Books paperback, 256 pp. ISBN: 0380008211.

Hoffer, Abram (1999) Dr. Hoffer's ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children. Quarry Press, Kingston, Ontario  Paperback, 280 pp. ISBN 1-55082-185-7 

Phelan, Thomas W. (1996) 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. Child Management, Incorporated Paperback, 180 pp.  ISBN: 0963386190. (The video version by the same name is also highly recommended.)

Reed, B. (1983) Food, Teens and Behavior. Natural Press, Manitowoc, WI. (This book is probably only available through an interlibrary loan. Please advise me if you find copies for sale anywhere.)

Rogers, Fred (1993) Personal communication. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood / Family Communications, Inc. 4802 Fifth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15213 http://familycommunications.org 

Copyright 2022, 2008, 2004 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.  

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at http://www.doctoryourself.com/review.html ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at http://www.doctoryourself.com/saulbooks.html )



Andrew W. Saul


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