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Improve Kids’ Behavior: Catch Them Being Good

Improve Kids Behavior: Catch Them Being GoodIf you’re a parent, educator or someone who works with kids in some other capacity, you know how frustrating and challenging it can be when a child misbehaves.

At school, teachers face varying forms of misbehavior: A child may wander around the classroom when he is supposed to be working at his desk, or talk out of turn when she is supposed to raise her hand. 

Parents often confront issues such as siblings squabbling at dinnertime, or children whining or throwing tantrums when they don’t get their way.

Parents, teachers and caregivers often respond to misbehavior by verbally correcting the child and doling out consequences. But some teachers are being taught a strategy called active ignoring. They overlook disruptive behavior and either focus on a child who is behaving, or wait until the misbehaving child exhibits a desirable behavior.  For example, a teacher may ignore a child calling out an answer and call on the student who is raising her hand.

These techniques are taught in a program called teacher-child interaction therapy (TCIT), which is based on a similar program for parents. Early studies suggest that these approaches, whether in the classroom or at home, improve children’s behavior.

Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is designed for children with emotional and behavioral disorders.  Its aim is to change the quality of the relationship between parents and children by changing the way they interact.

When children misbehave or have more serious behavior problems, such as violent outbursts and tantrums, it is easy for parents and caregivers to react with anger and frustration or harsh limits.

The goal of PCIT is to help parents show greater warmth, responsiveness, and sensitivity to their child’s behaviors. Studies indicate a quality parent-child relationship helps children develop a secure sense of their relationships and more effective emotional and behavioral regulation. Contingency management is the underlying principle. Contingencies — two events that tend to occur together — can have a great effect on how children act.

PCIT and TCIT advocate altering the paired events.  Instead of pairing misbehavior and attention, these programs pair positive behavior and attention.  The assumption is that children want and need adult attention. That makes it a reinforcer — something that, when paired with an action, makes that action more likely.

For example, a parent might respond to a child when out running errands by saying “you stayed right by me in the store, and you talked nicely, so we’re going to stop and get an ice cream cone on the way out.” In this instance, the parent is pairing both positive attention and a reward (ice cream) with the positive behavior.

Pair attention with misbehavior and you get more misbehavior. 

But if you ignore the misbehavior and wait for a desired behavior, with time, you increase the desired behavior. While waiting can certainly be difficult, it may be worth it to learn a little extra patience to help your children grow.


More information about PCIT can be found here.


Improve Kids’ Behavior: Catch Them Being Good

Christy Matta, MA

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of "The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress."

Christy has worked in mental health since 1994, is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT) and has extensive training in Mindfulness. She is an experienced group leader and trainer in both Mindfulness and DBT Skills Groups. Christy blogs regularly for Psych Central at Dialectical Behavior Therapy Understood.

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2018). Improve Kids’ Behavior: Catch Them Being Good. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 28 Jan 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.