How should you respond when a child repeatedly does good things in the wrong way? For example:

  • Interrupting someone else's conversation to give a compliment.
  • Saying "I love you" to distract from something he's done wrong.
  • "Helpfully" informing a parent of something parents would want to know, after the parent has seen for himself.
  • Copying another child's nice greeting or gesture in order to steal the attention.
  • Making very demanding requests in a polite way.
  • Being excited and seeking praise for things that are easy for him, but hard for his sisters (like going on the potty).

If this was only occasional, it would be easy to handle, but it feels like almost all my six year-old's positive behavior lately is occurring in these kinds of contexts. I am at a loss for how to handle it without knocking down every positive thing he tries to do.

2 Answers 2


Oh, my, is this what my future looks like?

It looks like the things you listed fall into a couple of different categories so I'm going to see what I can come up with for each of your bullet points:

  1. Interrupting: I'd like to think that at the age of 6 he has a pretty good handle on not interrupting, but I also know that it's something kids struggle with well beyond age 6. It sounds to me like he's doing it to get attention maybe? So perhaps the correct tactic would be to stop your conversation and say, "That was a very nice compliment. It would have been a much nicer compliment if you hadn't interrupted our conversation to share it, then we could have really enjoyed it."
  2. Saying "I love you": This is purely a distraction. Don't be distracted. I have always told my kids, "There is nothing you will ever be able to do to make me NOT love you, but that doesn't mean you're not going to get in trouble if you do something wrong." It's tough for kids to understand that you can love them to distraction and still be able to punish them if they get in trouble.
  3. "Helpfully" informing a parent: Sounds like tattling to me--especially if you've all ready seen it. If he knows you know and he's still telling you, that's just impudence and that just runs all over me, personally. A lot of schools have no-tattling policies and have started pushing the distinction on their elementary school students. The general policy is: Is student A harming himself? Is student A hurt? Is student A hurting someone else? Is student A in danger of harming himself of someone else? No? Then you don't need to tell a teacher about it. The same should be true for siblings and parents.
  4. Copying another child to steal the attention: Praise the other child or give generic praise that doesn't just throw the limelight on your son.
  5. Making demanding requests: Six-year-olds do not get to make demanding requests no matter how politely they ask. If it's a somewhat reasonable request but needs some modifications, perhaps asking him to repeat it just as politely, eliminating the part of the request that is unacceptable. And remember to thank him for remembering his manners.
  6. Seeking praise for easy things: Really? No praise. It's unlikely that he's going to revert diapers if you don't praise him because he used the potty. How about if you encourage him to praise his sisters when they use the potty? Then praise him for being such a great big brother.

I know what you're saying. It seems like about once a year I go through a phase with my son (who's 5) where he just starts testing boundaries and it's a different way every year. And it suddenly dawns on me one day that I've been riding him about everything for about a week--and it wears on him and it wears on me and I feel like a terrible parent! I don't let up on the boundary issue. He's 5 and there are just things he needs to learn, but I start supplementing with more praise and finding opportunities to praise him, I start making extra efforts to spend more one-on-one time with him--you're right, I don't want to tear him down completely while he's learning. The boundaries get adjusted as necessary, and eventually things settle back down. Sounds like you're in one of those cycles, too.

  • Oh, my, is this what my future looks like? So, you're offering advice based on experience then? Lots of parents-to-be do that. And then they find out what it's really like, and stop pretending they know anything at all. Downvoted.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 16:37
  • @Ernie: I am not a parent-to-be. I have children of my own. Just because my children are not currently at this stage doesn't mean that I don't have experience with similar circumstances in children I have taught. These behaviors are not germaine to 6-year-olds. High schoolers do the same things. Next time, try checking someone's profile before making any kind of assumptions about them.
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 2:04
  • 1
    Had you bothered to read the entire response, you would see at the very bottom where I mention my 5-year-old son. Not too far removed from a 6-year-old last time I checked. I'm more or less ticked-off by your entire comment. Downvote if you must, but have better reasons than ones you've imagined because you didn't bother to read my entire response.
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 6:24

Doing good things in a bad way is "not doing good things." These behaviors are all inappropriate attempts to get attention (age-appropriate, perhaps, but undesirable and worth discouraging).

If someone is trying to get attention inappropriately, your best approach is to withhold attention. Try ignoring the behavior. If it persists or gets louder (as it is apt to), respond like a broken record ("That behavior isn't nice.") Don't try to explain it - he will get the pattern after he hears it enough.

At the same time you will want to address his need for attention and his need to compete with his siblings, which probably stem from low self-esteem. Try teaching him some new things for which you can genuinely praise him, but limit your praise to descriptions of his accomplishment rather than parent-assigned adjectives ("You hopped seven times in a row without putting your other foot down!" instead of "You are a really good hopper" or "I am really proud of your hopping"). He needs to learn to see his own accomplishments and assign value to them himself.

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