When I tell people that I am starting a behavior management business to work with parents on improving their children’s behaviors, invariably the response that I get is that they know someone who could benefit from my services.

My sister has a lot of trouble controlling her kids. They don’t listen to her.

My grandson throws monstrous temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and he’s only 3!

Over Thanksgiving, I spoke with a woman who instead handed me an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior. I sat down right in the middle of the get together to read it. This article lays out some useful points on dealing with problematic behaviors, from tantruming to clinginess.

Just as with all new skills, practice is required for both parents and kids to master them. Positive reinforcement is a valuable tool for parents, but if you can never seem to find an opportunity to reinforce a behavior that you want to see (because your child doesn’t know how to successfully perform that behavior), then you’ll never be able to reinforce it. For example, when it’s time to go to school in the morning, your child throws a fit; yelling, screaming, laying on the floor and kicking. Ack!

At that moment, your main concern is being late for school, so you do your best, bundling your kid up and putting them in the car. But how can you help that behavior to go away? Simply by hoping that tomorrow will be different? Many parents do. What if instead, you practiced small parts of the behavior that you’d like to see instead of the fit?

Practicing manageable bits of an overall routine gives parents the opportunity to praise specific behaviors & let their child know what they expect of them. For the parent who has a hard time getting their child out the door to school, think about the things that occur that are leading up to the tantrum. Does the child have a routine in the mornings or is everything hurried and unstructured? Do they start to get upset at the same point every morning? Is it always a fight over which shoes to wear or if they ate enough breakfast?

Whatever small parts of the problem are “diagnosed” by the parent as contributing to the tantrum should be practiced and praised even when the child does something just a little better than their usual meltdown. Practice leaving the house to go other places and being ready when it’s time to go. Give choices about what to wear or the order used for getting things ready. Say, “I like how you’re getting your coat on by yourself!” or “I asked you to put your coat on and you did it! Yay!”

Practice might not make perfect in this situation, but there’s a very good chance that it will make “better” instead. Let’s Practice!

Katie Robinson began her foray into behavior management long before she knew what it was called. Growing up with a younger brother with special behavioral and emotional needs was her first taste of the hard work that it takes to be successful at managing behaviors. A career that spans teaching middle school special needs students and social work, Katie’s diverse experiences have led her to her newest venture: BW Kids Consulting. BW Kids Consulting affords Katie a ‘Supernanny’ style adventure of working with parents to help them help their kids to be their best selves. Check out her blog, Kid Whisperer!