Step 1: Set limits and rules
Lay the groundwork early by setting limits and rules in your household from the time kids are very young. Make sure that your children understand what is expected of them. Go over the house rules often. For young kids, you can use picture diagrams on the refrigerator to depict the expected routines and rules in your home.
Step 2: Establish logical consequences
The consequences for breaking the rules should be logical. For example, if your young children are fighting over a particular toy, then neither of them should be able to play with the toy for a day or two. If your son neglects to put away his bike, leaving it in the middle of the driveway, then you shouldn't let him ride his bike for the rest of the day (or for a few days). If you can't figure out a logical consequence, then the next thing to do is take away privileges.
Step 3: Convey the right message
When your child makes a misstep, don't resort to hitting or spanking. Also, while it's OK to label the behavior as bad, you shouldn't label your kid as bad (or stupid, useless or any other verbally abusive word). Don't make threats you aren't planning to carry out. If you threaten that you are going to turn off the TV for a week, you better be prepared to do it when your child breaks the rules.
Step 4: Use plenty of praise
Most kids hear "no" or other negative words hundreds of times a day and don't get enough positivity in their lives. Instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong, put the emphasis on what they are doing right. Notice and compliment your child's positive behavior on a regular basis. Reinforcing the little things (from picking up their toys to helping set the table) lays the foundation for good behavior in the future. Praise isn't just about words. You can also convey praise through smiles and hugs too.
Step 5: Take advantage of teachable moments
A teachable moment isn't planned, but you seize them when the opportunity arises. Teachable moments give you a chance to offer insight and life lessons to your kids in a fleeting time when you have inadvertently captured their interest or curiosity.
Step 6: Lead by example
You shouldn't expect your children to be perfect angels if you don't behave yourself. Sure, there are different rules for adults and kids, but treating others poorly, having bad manners, leaving out your belongings or neglecting personal care are bad habits at any age. Lead by example through treating others (and yourself) with care and respect.
More parenting how-tos
How to get your kids' help with dinner
How to get fit as a family
How to start homeschooling your child