Ask an Expert: How to Handle Your Kid’s Bad Habits

By Rebecca Bauer
How to handle bad habits ... Mother standing outdoors with her 12 year old son. She is looking at him with a disapproving expression. He is looking down with has arms folded, caught doing something he wasn't supposed to do.

When our child displays bad behavior or habits, we often fret about how to redirect their actions, so they learn how to be a productive citizen and thrive in the world. But how do you address these bad habits and teach your child to independently choose better actions?

In a recent episode of Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast, we spoke to Jennifer Miller, expert and author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids, to get her advice on how families can address everyday struggles—and help the whole family build social and emotional skills in the process.

Q: My 10-year-old son has started calling people stupid, including strangers. We don’t use that language at home, so we think he’s picking it up from school. What should we do?

A: That’s a common problem and there are a couple of ways you could deal with this. One way is when you encounter a situation where someone is calling another person “stupid,” use that moment to ask, “Now, how do you think that other person is feeling right now?” and “Have you ever been called stupid before? How did you feel when that occurred?” This will help your child reflect on the impact of words or labeling to others.

You can also try a name-calling activity that shows how calling people “stupid” and other names hurts their heart. It’s a heartbreaking exercise, but it’s very powerful.

Q: My six-year-old son won’t stop interrupting his teacher in class. How can help him develop self-control to wait his turn?

A: This is a perfect opportunity to work with the teacher to show that you are committed to helping your son learn better ways to communicate and helping the teacher get more structure in the classroom. Find out what the teacher needs from your son and practice at home. Role playing is fun to do at the dinner table, in the car and the whole family can participate. Then make sure you follow-up with the teacher to see if any progress has been made.

I have worked with parents on these kinds of skills at home and teachers will call out of the blue and say, “What did you do? Things have turned around.” So, it really does work!

Q: My daughter, who is 12, has always been a little bit of a complainer. She thinks pretty much anything we do as a family is awful or boring and we’re not sure how to work with her to be more kind of gracious and positive?

Unfortunately, our culture can perpetuate negative thinking, so try to monitor the messages she’s hearing at school, with her friends, in media to help balance it out with positivity. You can also adopt a regular practice of gratitude. Make it small and doable by finding a time when you are together as a family and each of you share three things you are grateful for. This promotes a more positive way of thinking and help gear the conversations to being more thankful for the big and small things in life.

For more advice, listen to our full interview with Jennifer Miller on how to raise confident kids, available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Rebecca Bauer is the family engagement specialist with the Center for Family Engagement at National PTA.

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