top of page

Are Parents Responsible for Children's Behavior?

As parents, we are our children's first teachers. As such, there are many important lessons that they learn from us, long before they start school. We teach them how to crawl, walk, and eat table foods. We teach them to care for their health and hygiene. But there are other things we need to teach them too.

Some of the important behaviors parents teach children are:

  • Manners and proper social behaviors

  • How to manage difficult emotions

  • How to cope with stressful situations

  • Listening skills

  • Sitting still and paying attention

  • The importance of being on time

Teaching a child proper behavior prior to their arrival at school is good for the child, for you, and for your child's future social relationships. Having time to practice social skills is important, and these can be learned through modeling. When you model a behavior, this means, a child watches your behavior and learns the proper way to act.

This is why it is important to be mindful of our own behavior, especially when our children are watching. They learn behaviors like kindness, empathy, sharing, and emotional regulation by watching what we do. This is true even if we don't think that the child is watching. They are much more alert than we give them credit for.

If a child has learned a behavior that we don't like, it is possible that they have learned it from us, even if we aren't aware of the behavior in ourselves.

According to The Kid Counselor,

I cannot tell you the number of times parents have come into my office asking me to “fix their child”. They give me a list of things that are “wrong” with the child and hope that I can produce major results in a short time frame. While there are some issues that are biologically or chemically rooted, most of the concerns that parents bring are confounded by their own actions.

If a child is exhibiting anger, anxiety, rudeness or inattentiveness to others (among other thing) there is a good chance that we have a tendency to behave this way ourselves. When you notice your child acting in a way that you don't like, it is important to have some introspection and ask yourself if there are times that you act this way.

Maybe it isn't a typical behavior, but a response under stress. Since children are always observing us, chances are, they see us when we aren't at our best. This means, we need to be aware of our unconscious patterns, or behaviors that we resort to in times of stress. Then, we can learn healthy coping mechanisms for our own behavior, and model better coping skills for our children.

Sometimes, especially in modern times, parents overly rely on schools to teach kids everything. However, proper behavior is something that they should already have some idea about prior to going to school. Otherwise, teachers have to take time out of lessons to tell kids to be quiet or stay in their seat.

According to Higher Edu, one school in Portugal sent the following letter home to parents at the start of school:

We would like to remind you that magic words such as hello, please, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, and thank you, all begin to be learned at home.
It’s also at home that children learn to be honest, to be on time, diligent, show friends their sympathy, as well as show utmost respect for their elders and all teachers.
Home is where they learn to be clean, not talk with their mouths full, and how/where to properly dispose of garbage.
Home is also where they learn to be organized, to take good care of their belongings, and that it’s not ok to touch others.
Here at school, on the other hand, we teach language, math, history, geography, physics, sciences, and physical education. We only reinforce the education that children receive at home from their parents.

This provides a good list of things that we, as parents, need to be teaching our children prior to enrolling them in school. We can model good behaviors for them, and remind them to do the right things at home. We can also teach them how to interact with other kids at play dates or on the playground.

When kids are lacking in appropriate skills and they go into school, they can be at risk of discipline issues or becoming disruptive in class. If they have to be removed from the classroom due to behavioral issues, they can miss out on important learning time as well.

In addition to problems in school, kids can have problems in relationships with friends too. For example, if they don't know how to share, they may get into arguments with friends and classmates over a toy or other item.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you can teach kids how to have good behavior by:

  • Encourage your child and give lots of affection.

  • Reward good behavior. Praise your child and give extra attention when he or she does something right. Give a reward for good behavior.

  • Your child will copy your actions and words. Act and speak the way you want your child to act and speak.

  • Be kind, but firm.

  • Remove temptations (like breakable items) before children get into trouble. Preventing bad behavior is always easier than correcting a problem.

  • Ignore some small problems or annoying behaviors. Bigger problems need to be corrected, especially if the child's bad behavior might be harmful or dangerous.

  • Be consistent. Always treat a bad behavior the same way, or your child will learn that he or she can sometimes “get away with it.”

  • Correct your child soon after the bad behavior occurs, but wait until your anger has passed. Counting to 10 before you say something or do something may help reduce your anger so you are in control of yourself.

  • Make rules that are right for your child's age. Rules work best for children who are school-aged. Younger children (infants and toddlers) don't understand rules yet. They are still learning what a rule is.

  • Use “time-out” for children between 18 months and five years of age. Time-out may help correct bad behaviors like tantrums, whining, fighting, and arguing. To use time-out, put your child in a chair with no toys or TV. Don't speak to your child during time-out. Time-out should last one minute for each year of the child's age. For example, a four-year-old should be in time-out for four minutes. Your child should be quiet for at least 15 seconds before timeout ends.

  • Correct older children by taking away things they like (TV or video games, or time with friends).

  • Remember to tell your child that the behavior was bad, but the child isn't “bad.”

You can use these tips to teach your kids to behave in the ways that are appropriate in social settings, as well as at home. It is important to teach kids to behave with courtesy and respect towards others. This way, they will have good relationships with others in the future.

In addition to modeling good behavior and teaching children how to treat others with respect, you can also read books to your child that have a prosocial message. Learning how to treat others is an important part of your child's development, and we need to make sure that we aren't neglecting these important skills or relying on the school to teach them.

You can let your child know that when they behave in a certain way, it shows others that the child cares about them. Children do care about relationships with others, and this can help them to develop empathy as well.

If a child has done something that was unkind to someone else, you can ask the child to put themselves in that person's shoes, and think about how they would feel if the same thing was done to them. This can help the child to reflect and to think about how others have feelings the same way that they do.

Once the child thinks about it, then they can apologize in a heartfelt manner to the person who was hurt by their actions. Learning to repair a relationship is an important skill for them to learn as well.

Make sure to be patient with your child as they are learning social and emotional skills. They need to practice these just the same way that they need to practice crawling, rolling over, or tying their shoes. As parents, it is our job to coach them and guide them without being overly punitive.

Let me know if you have any other questions about teaching your child proper behavior in the comments, and I will be happy to provide more information in a future article.


bottom of page