How to Deal with a Child’s Repeated Misbehavior

by Sally Matheny
Dealing with a Child's Misbehavior
(pixabay photo)
What do you do when your children keep repeating the same misbehavior? Whether it’s disrespect, dishonesty, or a despicable attitude, you’d think they’d get tired of listening to the same lecture about the error of their ways. Or the penalties, which increase in severity with each infraction, would finally produce the desired behavior.

Alas, any improvement seems temporary. So, how do we deal with a child’s repeated misbehavior?

Whether the child is six or sixteen, too often, parents hear, “But I didn’t understand” or “I didn’t hear you” or something similar.
Half the time we don’t believe that, but to close any loopholes, consider following through with a few of these steps.

The Basics

There are numerous resources available for parents on the basics of setting age-appropriate rules, discipline, rewards, and consequences. My favorite websites are Focus on the Family, Christian Parenting, and Lifeway. However, the link I provided is from TheSpruce.com. I liked the easy-to-understand article there.

I’ll only mention a few key points beyond what’s in that article, because I’m thinking if you clicked on this title, you’re already implementing those and need something more.


Maintain eye contact when talking with your child. Make sure you have their undivided attention when discussing behavior expectations.

Explain in an age-appropriate manner why it’s important to have the desired behavior. Preferably this is not simply stating, “because I said so!”

Ask the child to repeat back to you what you’ve said.

Stay calm. Berating or ridiculing children is not the best answer. Be gracious. Remember all the times in the Bible when Jesus compassionately restored those who sinned?

Offer do-overs. Start the day with new mercies and a clean slate. It’s possible for children to experience grace as well as the consequences for sin. We all know that.

Sincerely listen to your child’s input on the matter. It’s only by listening and following up with questions that we can begin to understand the root of the problem.

Speak the Truth

A tactic I recently read about and thought I’d try is searching for a positive attribute in the misbehavior. At first, that sounded weird to me. Then, I realized I’ve done that before.

One of our kids could be a little pushy and bossy at times. I told her if she’d just learn to harness that trait and allow God to shape it, she’d be a great leader. As she matured, step by step, she did give the reins over to God.

Her tenacity helped her courageously share her faith. The stubbornness of holding onto her opinion developed into an ability to stand firm in her beliefs and values.

When another of our children repeatedly skipped math problems because he thought they were too difficult, I had a hard time thinking of a positive attribute. Finally, I told him he liked taking the path of least resistance. He liked making things easy on himself. I challenged him to let God take that and use it for His glory. Perhaps God will provide him opportunities to make life easier for other people—such as building a wheelchair ramp, mowing someone’s lawn, or helping with kids at church events.

It’s not about ignoring the bad behavior. Address it. Apply consequences. Consistency is crucial. But then, help your child see a glimpse of the strengths you see and how he can use them in a positive way.

Also, I tell my kids, especially when it concerns a school subject, “You don’t know what God has in mind for you. It’s wise to learn as much as you can.” I remind them I never thought I’d be homeschooling—which means I’ve taken every grade of math four times. Four! I think I’ve finally grasped how to do word problems!

Write the Truth

Write the truth.
(Pixabay photo)
Write down the desired behavior and the consequences. Do the same thing for misbehavior. Ask your child to also write these and post them where he or she will see them.

You may want to include rewards. Parents have different opinions about what behavior should be rewarded and what should be expected without a reward. Talk about the diminishing value of ill-gotten rewards and the temporary satisfaction of empty, worldly pleasure.

However, we should remember to verbally recognize steps of improvement. It encourages the child to keep moving in the right direction.

When frustration levels are high, it helps to take a time out. Parents may want to consider a two-way journal or letter writing activity with their children. I have done this a few times with each of my children. It was most helpful to us during the teen years. After calming down, composing a respectful letter to one another helped us to convey our viewpoints in a more rational manner.

Sometimes the writing process itself was therapeutic. Parents should set the tone with the first letter displaying unconditional love and respect for their child. I tried to include an apology if anything could have been handled better on my end, regardless of who pushed whose stress buttons first! 

Read the Truth

As much as you think it would help, hitting a child over the head with a Bible will not help. But staying in God’s Word does!

If you’ve not established a regular time to read the Bible yourself, or with your family, start today. It is a lifeline to truth, wisdom, and peace. While there are some great Christian parenting books out there, no other book compares to the value of reading the Bible. An excellent Christian parenting book will affirm that.

It’s important to remind our children of God’s commands, but we need to do that with love and gentleness

Find or stay committed to attending a Bible-believing church. You’ll find more imperfect parents there! But most of the people there, even childless folks, are ready to accept, love, and help you. Many have probably been through what you’re going through now and will share what they’ve learned along the way.


Parenting is hard—full of rewarding blessings but hard. We’ll never reach perfection and much of it is a learn-as-you-go process. Thankfully, we can consult our perfect, heavenly Father. Thank Him for the blessing of children. Then, never let up praying for wisdom, for patience, and for opportunities to point them to Christ.

Also, pray with your child. If this is something new to you, it may feel awkward at first. It’s okay. Your child will see you love him that much to seek the God of the universe on his behalf. Just tell God what’s on your heart. Model for your child how to ask God for forgiveness, for wisdom to make good decisions, and how to praise Him for the magnitude of his love.

Your turn. What are some helpful suggestions you have on dealing with misbehavior?

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