Promoting Positive Behaviors in Youth

We know as parents that the more positive we are with our kids, the more they are likely to have thriving behavior.  But, it just isn’t that easy.   It looks like the young person in this photo knows who they are and is very positive about it, but how can we promote positive behavior in youth?  Let’s take a look at five actions that will help youth to thrive in various situations that will also serve them as adults.  Empowering youth to choose positive behaviors under challenging circumstances equals a parenting victory, getting it is as easy as one through five.

First, help kids to show their leadership skills and encourage them to develop those skills.  Watch your kids in a variety of situations, coach them when a choice arises, and they need to react to something difficult or negative.  By talking with them, preferably during the event itself, then you help them to be more proactive when they are in that situation the next time.  According to the Search Institute (, helping youth to be a leader in an organization or group at least one time a year adds to their resiliency as a young person.  That resiliency is like Teflon coating, as they move through the temptations and difficulties of life, they do so with skill and confidence.  None of the negative or bad experiences stick to them.  Leadership skills come naturally for some kids, but most of us have to work at being a leader.  If your child is shy, start by looking for minimal, low stakes leadership opportunities.  Once you find one, role-play the conversation with them at home and try various come-backs to challenge their reactions and thinking.  Help them to feel confident that they can talk with those that are more aggressive and more of an introvert than themselves.

Second, talk with kids about maintaining good health and be willing to model it yourself.  Kids’ health +is a big one, as you chow down a big hamburger and a large soda, think about the message that your kids are receiving.  Help them to eat foods that are healthy by doing so yourself.  Talk with them about the value of good health, particularly as we get older.  Often, people don’t get concerned about their health until there is a crisis.  I went to an MD recently, and the nurse came into the room and said, so you don’t have any health concerns?  I said, no.  She said, and you don’t have any surgeries, and your blood work is excellent?  I said that’s correct.  Then she said, so why are you here?  I was shocked and told her because I want to stay that way.  You see, MDs are much like ourselves; they practice reactive medicine and teach us to do the same.  Wait until there is a problem before you start to do something about it in many cases that are too late.

Third, teach kids to value diversity.  This one you need to model and also to watch your conversation and reactions to racial/ethnic groups.  Language is essential here, and kids are taking note.  When I was an assistant principal at a large high school, I was working with a young man who had tremendous opinions about other racial/ethnic groups.  He had too many views for his age.  When I asked his father where those statements came from, he said, not from me; we don’t talk that way in our home.  I accepted that explanation at first, but it continued through the school year.  After several conferences and a few suspensions, I realized that it was coming from the home and that the child had learned it from his dad (a single dad).  Teach kids that diversity is a strength, that it adds different ways of seeing things to our world.

Fourth, teach kids to succeed in school.  Helping our kids with perseverance, determination, and setting high standards is an absolute key to life.  So often I see young adults who graduated from high school but have no idea what they want to do.  Kids must learn to push themselves to achieve, learning how to trudge uphill.  My mentor, John Maxwell, says this, “Remember, everything worthwhile is uphill.”  That is so important for kids to understand.  They see, and athlete, or a musician at their peak and have no sense of how much work and personal effort it took for them to get there.  How does your child handle adversity?  How about defeat?  Have you taught them that failure is just another way that something won’t work and that now you’re that much closer to your goal?  Try it; it will make a big difference and don’t be afraid to push your kids in this area.

Fifth, talk to your kids about problem alcohol use.  When I was a high school band director, the band was preparing for an Open House or Back-to-School night as some schools call it.  We had a big performance for the school in front of our community.  I had two young women whom I identified as having had alcohol.  I felt positive about the identification and called the parents and told them that they would not be able to perform according to our board of education policy.  One of the two parents was just positive that they had not been drinking.  He scolded me severely calling me names and threatening me beyond reality.  I took it all in stride and stuck by my decision.  A day later, he showed up at my office and apologized to me for his behavior and said that she had been drinking and that I was correct in my decision.  Here’s what I know, so often we teach our kids how to behave, as this father had done, but kids go beyond our teaching anyway.  It strikes us and blind-sides us, and we initially don’t want to believe it.  Talk with your kids with the attitude that likely someday they will test your teachings and help them to feel comfortable about their mistake, or learning opportunity.  It will make a big difference.

I hope that these five positive behaviors will help you as parents work with your kids to build resiliency and that Teflon coating that they will indeed need in life.


Yours for Better Parenting,