How to Teach Your Kid to be Nice

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My kid’s consequence for not treating his brother lovingly is that he is not allowed to play outside with his friends the next day. In my frustration, I fear I may have given too harsh of a consequence. I am thinking of taking the consequence back, but I don’t want to teach that you can get out of consequences. I’d love your thoughts. -Kelsey, Athens, Ohio

Dear Kelsey,

I appreciate you thinking about not wanting kids to feel like they can get out of consequences. Also, your consequence is logical. Don’t take it back. Never take a consequence back unless it is abusive, neglectful, or if it absolute illogical nonsense. How to deal with this will be the subject of a future column.

Here is how you can give the same consequence in a more effective way so that you won’t feel like you have to walk it back and it will allow you to be calmer because you will be even more sure that the consequence will teach the lesson that you want it to teach. Since you have already given the consequence, you can pick this up mid-stream for your present situation. This is how I would handle setting the limit about being kind to others, taking the situation from the time of the unkind infraction:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. I’ll be doing something about that later. Yikes.

Kid Whisperer walks away.


Kid Whisperer: Ugh. When you are unkind to your brother, it makes me so sad. It makes me worry that you might be unkind again, or that you might hurt someone else. So this is what is going to happen. I am going to allow you to practice being nice to your brother. I will be noticing whether or not you are able to be nice to him. When I see that you have mastered being nice to him, you can start being around other people and you will be allowed to be around them for as many seconds as you can be nice to them. So we can start you practicing being nice to your brother…right…now.

Kid: How long will I have to practice being nice?

Kid Whisperer: That depends upon how long it takes for you to be an expert at being nice to your brother. I will be watching and I will decide when I think you have mastered it.

This consequence comes with a built-in intervention. Whenever I see that he is not hurting his brother, I notice it– but I don’t use praise, I just notice. Behaviors that get noticed get repeated, explored and heightened.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed that you are not hurting your brother. I noticed that.

Your son will be more and more likely to exhibit the behavior of being nice each time you notice him being nice.

Kid shows Kid Whisperer that he is ready for public consumption.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed that you haven’t been mean to your brother once for the last three days. Are you ready to try going outside and playing with your friends, or would you like to keep practicing with your brother?”

Kid: Outside! I want to go outside!!! Are you nuts? Outside!!! I’m the nicest person in the world!

Kid Whisperer: (giving Kid a big hug) I’m really proud of you.

See how I was able to actually improve my relationship with Kid through his negative behavior? Pretty cool, huh?