Improving Your Child's Behavior through Problem Ownership

By: Mark Lakewood, Relationship Specialist, Author, and Motivational Speaker

One of the most effective and powerful ways to improve a child’s behavior is to make sure the child always assumes complete responsibility and ownership of his or her behavior. Often, parents inadvertently fail to have their child assume responsibility of misbehavior because they fail to recognize how their own behavior is contributing to the problem. This article highlights three ways that parents fail to have their child assume ownership of misbehavior and what parents can do to make sure that their child owns their own misbehavior.

First of all, never excuse your child’s misbehavior. Often, parents excuse their child’s acting out behavior assuming that the misbehavior is contributed from sugar, red dye in foods, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and prior negative life experiences (parental divorce, death, bullying, abuse, neglect, etc…). There is no study that suggests a link between sugar and hyperactivity. There is no food allergy that causes children to lie, steal, talk back, etc… Children diagnosed with ADHD need structure in their lives to help them manage their own behavior and to learn how to structure their own lives. Though negative life experiences can be sad and hurtful, it is crucial that parents do not give their child the message that it is okay to misbehave as a result of negative life experiences. It is important now more than ever that parents teach their children how to cope with negative life experiences in the absence of misbehavior or else their children will feel compelled to misbehave after each negative life experience.

When parents excuse their child’s misbehavior, their child may develop a conditioned response. For instance, if a parent continuously blames sugar for their child’s misbehavior, their child may become conditioned into misbehaving every time he or she consumes sugar. The child is not misbehaving because of the effect of sugar in his or her body but because they were taught that misbehavior follows after the consumption of sugar.

The same holds true for children diagnosed with ADHD. When parents tell their child that the ADHD is causing the misbehavior, the child becomes conditioned into believing that he or she is no longer responsible for their misbehavior because the ADHD is making them misbehave. In addition, when parents tell their child that he or she should be on ADHD medication or their medication needs to be increased to decrease misbehavior, there is a good chance that their child may become conditioned into believing that he or she is not responsible for their misbehavior until they begin taking ADHD medication or their medication is increased.

I am not suggesting that children should not take ADHD medication. What I am suggesting however is that parents should have their child’s medical doctor determine the need for medication. But in the mean time, parents need to remain consistent with disciplining their child when he or she misbehaves instead of excusing the misbehavior.

Secondly, never laugh or giggle in the presence of your child when he or she misbehaves, especially when your child is a toddler. Often, parents laugh when their toddler engages in misbehavior that is considered to be “cute”. The problem is that laughing tells your child that their behavior is appropriate, thus reinforcing the misbehavior. When the parent eventually becomes annoyed with the misbehavior and subsequently disciplines his or her child, confusion arises as their child once thought their parent approved of the behavior. Because of this confusion, the child may develop dislike and a general lack of trust for his or her parent.

And finally, children often fail to own their misbehavior when their parents yell and scream at them. When parents yell and scream, their children develop fear and dislike for them. At a time when children should be angry at themselves for misbehaving, they instead turn their anger on their yelling parent. Yelling undermines the disciplinary process and should be avoided.

When parents fail to have their child take ownership of misbehavior, this not only encourages their child’s misbehavior to continue but also prevents their child from learning and developing the coping skills they need to develop should their misbehavior be contributed to ADHD or prior negative experiences. Children eventually become adults. If children fail to learn how to manage their own behavior and structure their own lives, they will eventually become adults who are unable to manage their own lives. When adults misbehave and commit crimes, the odds that a judge would excuse their crime because of ADHD or negative life experiences is minimal at best. The best chance for a child to grow up becoming a law abiding citizen is when he or she is taught at a young age how to manage their own behavior.

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In 1986, Mr. Lakewood earned his Bachelors degree in Social Work at George Williams College, Downers Grove, Illinois. In 1987, he earned his Masters degree in Social Work at Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois while enrolled in the advanced standing program. If you would like additional parenting tips and suggestions or if you would like to attend an online educational seminar, please feel free to log onto the Building Strong Families National Seminar’s website at

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