The Impact of the Phrase "Behave Yourself" on Children

There are some typical phrases that we often repeat to get children to behave. But are you aware of the impact of saying"behave yourself"?
The Impact of the Phrase "Behave Yourself" on Children

Last update: 18 May, 2023

There are certain typical phrases that we say without thinking in order to get children to behave so that they won’t behave inappropriately when we’re not around. However, most parents are unaware of the impact that the phrase “behave yourself” has on children. So, keep reading to find out why you should no longer use this phrase on a daily basis.

When we leave our little ones at home, at school, or with their friends, we almost all have a hard time avoiding this common phrase. It’s a seemingly innocent expression that serves as a warning to children about how we want them to act. However, the reality is that it’s a confusing phrase that does nothing to guide children.

The phrase “behave yourself” isn’t a good parenting resource

When it comes to saying the phrase “behave yourself” lightly, many parents are very clear about what they mean. For some, for example, it means that their children should be quiet and not make a fuss. For others, it means that their little ones should always listen to adults. While for other parents, it means that children shouldn’t raise their voices too much.

A mother scolding her daughter.
Avoid falling into common phrases that your children don’t understand and opt for direct and empathetic communication.

As you can see, there are multiple meanings that can be given to this phrase. And although for adults, the meaning is very clear, for children, it’s very confusing to understand. This is because they don’t quite know what their parents expect from them with that phrase. So, they have no other option but to inhibit their personality or simply ignore what’s said.

And both alternatives bring harm to children’s emotions. When little ones don’t abide by the limits established at home and act lawlessly, that behavior will only end up affecting their relationship with their parents and will make them always react without thinking. And when children restrain and limit their nature to please their parents, they’ll end up repressing their feelings and depend on the approval of others.

4 tips for changing the phrase “behave yourself”

It’s important to remember that children don’t “misbehave” because they want to, but because it’s their way of learning from their mistakes. Hence, parental guidance should be directed more towards dialogue and correction, rather than threats or ambiguities. If children have tantrums, it’s because it’s their way of expressing their discomfort. If they yell at others, it’s because of their lack of emotional intelligence, and if they’re naughty, it’s because they were exploring their environment.

Here are some tips to change the phrase “behave yourself”.

1. Don’t leave room for misunderstandings

As we explained earlier, telling children to “be good” or “behave yourself” is a phrase that can lend itself to many interpretations. For this reason, it’s essential that you be specific with your children about what you expect from their behavior.

For example: “Today you’re going to go to art class. I hope you have a lot of fun with your classmates, but don’t neglect your lessons by being distracted by other things.” This way, your children will be aware of what you expect them to do and will know how they should behave on the occasion.

2. Explain the reason for your recommendations

Children should know that when we tell them things, it’s for their own good and not a way to force them to do what we want. Therefore, if you really want to educate your children beyond just instructing them, it’s important that you explain to them why they should behave in a respectful manner.

Referring to the previous example, you can try going a step further by saying something like: “If I tell you not to neglect your lessons by laughing with your friends, it’s because if you do, you’re wasting your education. Also, you’re disrespecting your teacher who gives their best so that you can learn new things every day.”

3. Offer solutions instead of threats

A mother yelling at her child, who's crying.
When we use threats or verbal violence to try to get children to behave, we’re only creating emotional wounds.

All children are different, and some may find it more difficult not to resort to their behavior patterns to stay calm.

For this reason, if you ask them not to react by yelling while waiting for you at the doctor, tell them to channel those feelings into another activity, such as coloring in a coloring book. This will keep them busy, and then you can do something fun together later.

4. Reward respect for boundaries

When you know your children have a hard time sticking to boundaries, encourage good behavior with emotional and physical rewards. For example, if your child managed to stay calm at the doctor’s visit, tell them how proud you are that they made the effort not to become upset. Or reward them on the way out with ice cream or an afternoon of games.

Eradicate the phrase “behave yourself” from your vocabulary

Now that you’re aware of the great power that words hold when used assertively and correctly, it’s time for you to eradicate the phrase “behave yourself” when talking to your children. And instead of falling into common phrases and generating misunderstandings, it’s better to express yourself in such a way that your little ones know clearly what you expect from them.

This is the only way to ensure that your words don’t become threats that will intimidate them or premises that are passed off lightly. Communication and dialogue must be pillars in the upbringing of your children.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.