Creating polite, well-mannered children doesn’t just happen it involves teaching, shaping behavior and positive reinforcement.

hildren arent born knowing how to behave. However, forming them into the type of kids we all want caring, well-mannered, thoughtful and productive basically starts at birth. As parents, we are our children’s most important teachers, and the decisions we make undoubtedly shape how they develop and the behaviors they exhibit.

Here’s the rub: Becoming an effective parent is also a learned skill, with plenty of mistakes being made during the journey you take with your child. Lets examine some common scenarios that, if handled thoughtfully by you, can produce a positive outcome:

CAUSE: Exposing your child to TV programming (particularly fast-paced programs) before the age of 2 years.
EFFECT: Overstimulation from watching TV during infancy can lead to attention problems later in life.
RESOLUTION: Use TV as a tool, not a crutch you’re looking for quality, not quantity. Recommendations from studies by the Center for Childhood Health, Behavior, and Development and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have set strict media limits for children before the age of 2. Bombarding them with sounds and images at such a young age can have negative effects on brain development and ability to learn. It also takes away from human interaction, unstructured playtime and outdoor activities, all of which are essential for social, emotional and cognitive development.

CAUSE: Feeding your child large amounts of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
EFFECT: Self-esteem, energy levels, physical activity and sleep can suffer from the extra pounds that pile up.
RESOLUTION: A CDC report from a 2010 study revealed that more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Just 100 extra calories a day a soda or piece of candy can mean 10 excess pounds gained over one year. One of the main reasons parents buy and feed their kids these unhealthy foods is because of what we call pester power. The typical parent gives in to something they don’t agree with after 18 requests! This reinforces to the child that no doesn’t actually mean no. Establish non-negotiable limits, let your child know what they are and then stick to them.

CAUSE: Acting poorly toward your children and other people around you.
EFFECT: As your child’s most powerful role model, you teach them how to engage with others.
RESOLUTION: Children focus intently on your personal interactions. That means it’s not as important what you say as what you do, particularly with situations in which you feel mistreated. If you act angry or disrespectful, they will internalize that behavior and act similarly. If you want your child to be more patient or reasonable, it’s up to you to provide those types of examples. Every please and thank you that you say to others in your child’s presence counts.

CAUSE: Making disciplining your children a large production.
EFFECT: Children see that their bad behavior gets attention from you, even if it is negative.
RESOLUTION: Acting out is often motivated by a desire to receive this personal attention. If children violate a rule that they know, an appropriate punishment (i.e. time out) can be instituted without fanfare. Simply let them know what rule they violated and what the consequence will be. But keep in mind that children respond just as well or better to praise. Most parents don’t do enough to catch’em being good-by proactively praising them for good behavior when you see it (such as them being patient while out) and providing positive recognition. They’ll learn quickly that they can get the attention they want by being good.

All children are different, which means poor behaviors will undoubtedly crop up despite your best efforts. Identify one or two at a time to work on so neither you nor your child feels overwhelmed. Dont forget to create clear expectations, along with a system of consequences and rewards for good or bad behavior. The rewards to your family will be obvious.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, M.D., Director of the Center for Child Health Behavior and Development at the Seattle children’s Research Institute and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington. Author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids, Dr. Christakis is an international expert on children and media; his research has been featured on Anderson Cooper 360, The Today Show, ABC, NBC, and CBS News, as well as numerous major national newspapers.