Have you been telling your child to “be good” and it isn’t working well? In my previous post, I explained why saying “be good” to kids isn’t super helpful. (So you may want to start with my first article, Why  ‘Be Good’ Isn’t Good Advice to Kids.) In this article, I’m offering some concrete ideas on what to do and say instead of saying “be good.”

Alternatives to Saying “Be Good” to Kids – Plan Ahead Strategies

What your child needs, to work towards “behaving” (as we call it) is help from you to learn new skills and gain more life experience/maturity. Even then your child will still make mistakes, so remember this important Positive Discipline tip – focus on improvement rather than perfection.

Here are five alternatives to telling kids to “be good” and these concrete ways of teaching will yield better results, especially over time.

1. Give Your Child Useable Information

Give specific instructions to help children know what to do (instead of what not to do.)You may need to tell your child details that seem obvious to you, but may not be obvious to your child.


  • “While we’re shopping you can either walk beside me, help me push the cart or ride in the cart.”
  • “Stand behind the last person in line. When the person in front of you steps forward, then you step forward too. Stay behind that same person until the ladder is in front of you. After the person in front of you has slid all the way to the bottom and is out of the way, THEN you can slide.”

2.  Role Play to Help Your Child Practice Skills

Role play situations for your child to try out different ways to solve problems (such as asking a friend for a turn)

3. Give Your Child an Age Appropriate Job or Task

Ask your child to complete a “job” to help out around the house or on an errand so he/she will have a focus (cross off items on a grocery list, hand out napkins to guests.) When kids are involved in a useful task, they feel important in an “I can help/I am capable” way plus they won’t misbehave due to boredom.

4. Create a Wheel of Choice to Help Your Child Learn to Problem Solve

A Wheel of Choice can be created and tailored to your child’s age and specific needs – for children ages 3 and up.

5.  Keep Your Preschooler Busy with Age Appropriate Play

Kids of any age find it difficult to just sit and wait or stand and wait. If you’re going somewhere where waiting is involved, take along portable toys or create a simple game to play with your child to keep your child engaged in an activity.

Age Appropriate Toy Ideas to Take to the Store, Doctor’s Office, Other Appointments, etc.

  • plain paper and crayons
  • a book on tape and headphones
  • Magnadoodle
  • I Spy books

Waiting Games/Grocery Store Games to Play with Kids

  • Magazine Learning Games for Preschoolers (great for waiting rooms)
  • The Categories Game for Families and Kids
  • I Spy

And just in case you’re wondering, I don’t recommend bribing your child with a special treat for behaving. It doesn’t do the job of teaching concrete skills and it sets up the dynamic that your child will expect to be compensated for learning appropriate skills that will help them grow and mature. I want my kids to feel inner pride about learning and growing and acquiring new skills, not pride in working out a deal to get a prize.

I love discussion and comments. Offer ideas and comments below.

Kelly Pfeiffer

Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer

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