Spend unstructured time together
Praise good behavior immediately and often
Positive reinforcement is the best behavioral tool, and especially powerful when it comes from a parent. Look for opportunities throughout the day to praise your child. Keep praise immediate and enthusiastic, and specify the exact behavior you're commending.
Reinforce praise with tokens
This works especially well with young children. Tokens can be anything tangible and easily recorded -- stars on a chart, coins in a jar -- and should be awarded promptly for good behavior. Once a certain number of tokens are amassed, the child earns a predetermined reward, such as a video game, a sleepover at a friend's house, or a trip to the movies.
Don't ask, tell
Don't start your requests with "Would you mind?", or finish them with "O.K.?" Instead, make directives clear and succinct: "I notice your coat is on the floor. I'd like you to pick it up."
Insist that your child make eye contact with you when you speak to him or her
That way, you prevent your kid from ignoring you, while reinforcing what you're trying to communicate. "This can be done with humor," says child psychologist Douglas Riley. "I use the phrase, 'Give me your eyeballs.'"
Let your children know (politely) that they're not your equals
"I urge parents to make it clear that they own everything in their home," says Riley. "Kids are often outraged to discover this. But they need to know that you're in charge, and that access to all the nice things in life, like the phone, TV, and computer, has to be earned by showing positive behavior and a good attitude."
Set up and explain consequences for misbehavior ahead of time
These consequences should involve taking away privileges, such as access to the TV, playtime with friends, or another favorite activity. Particularly bad conduct, such as hitting or other physical violence, should result in an extended time-out (30 minutes for children over 8, an hour for adolescents), in an isolated room, where the child is instructed to think about his or her behavior.
Stick to the consequences, no matter what
"If your child hits a sibling five times and gets punished for it only three times, he knows he's got a 40 percent chance of getting away with that behavior," says psychiatrist Larry Silver, M.D. "A parent has to be 100 percent consistent in addressing bad behavior. Otherwise, the behavior may persist or even get worse."