Parenting Now!

Structure, Talk, Interaction Improve Behavior

When a child’s behavior makes you feel stressed out, frustrated or embarrassed, the child is not trying to make your life hard. Rather the child is trying to let you know that some of his or her developmental needs have not been met. Children have a strong need for consistency in their lives because this creates stability for them.

Parents can positively affect their child’s behavior by taking three actions. These steps will provide a foundation that supports the child’s social-emotional development. The actions will teach children skills that lead to more behaviors that parents want to see, and fewer of the ones they don’t want to see.

First and most importantly, structure your child’s day to meet their basic needs. This includes a regular schedule for meals, sleep, hygiene and play. Irregular schedules produce negative behaviors. Many parents are familiar with the behaviors associated with a child who is tired, hungry or both. The trust and safety children learn from predictable routines is a starting point for developing trust and safety in social relationships.

Second, talk to your children from birth – talk, talk, talk. Use words, facial expressions and gestures to model how to use language. Describe and comment about what you and your child are doing and seeing every day. You can do this in the car, the grocery store or the back yard.

This social activity will help your child understand the value of language. Children can’t learn the social aspect of communicating with others by interacting with TVs, tablets or computers. Daily conversations and verbal interactions with your child teach them about the give-and-take nature of communicating. This is the basis for learning how to take turns with peers during school.

Third, watch, listen and interact with your child about their interests. The world is a new and exciting place to your child. While you may have seen a ladybug a hundred or more times in your life, this is your child’s first experience with one. Your interest in the ladybug may foster your child’s lifelong passion for insects. In time, it may lead to your child’s desire to become a biologist or botanist.

Children love it when their parents join them in their play and take interest in their curiosities. This mutual interest provides a basis for shared attention and the development of self-competence and self-esteem.

Research supports these three positive, relationship-based actions as key building blocks to better behavior. In addition, it prepares children to be “ready to learn” when they enter school. Putting these actions into daily practice enhances parent-child interactions and lays the foundation for children to develop positive interactions with others in their families and communities.

Natalya McComas is a behavior specialist with Early Childhood CARES, an agency that provides early intervention and early childhood special education services to Lane County children, ages birth to 5. If you have concerns about your child’s development, call 541-346-2578 or 800-925-8694 to schedule a free screening in English or Spanish. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore our website or call 541-484-5316. Parents may also contact the Family Info Line by calling 211, extension 5, or sending an e-mail to