Children demonstrate their understanding of the world through their behaviours and, as they grow, these are demonstrated with emotions and in ways that can tend to displease us.
Due to children's limited language skills, this can manifest in anger, sadness and frustration; a child can easily get over-excited, which you will also need to handle too!
Doing the opposite of what has been asked of them takes up energy and generates our concern. This can be by way of expressing their concern or dislike for something, or knowing what the best way is to 'press our buttons.'
Tips to handle tricky behaviour
We asked behavioural expert Miranda Russell for her suggestions on how to handle this tricky behaviour, with a look at:
Your role in disciplining your child
It's very rare to have the perfect child all the time, and even those that seem to be in control of their emotions need some assistance or guidance to help get them back on track.
It's one thing trying to understand what your children are telling us through their behaviours, but it could become easier if it's managed in a calm and consistent way, with firm boundaries, so they can learn what you find unacceptable.
Communicate with key people
Discussions with those that your child is spending time with - such as a partner, grandparents, carer, or perhaps the parent of a child who will be inviting them over for tea - will help cement the notions that certain behaviours will not be tolerated anywhere.
Always follow through
Occasionally, it can be easy for parents to ignore occasional bad behaviour or not follow through on some threatened punishment, and this sets a bad precedent.
Never hit a child
When disciplining a child, it's important never to hit a child of any age. Babies and toddlers are especially unable to make any connection between their behaviour and the physical punishment they've received; they will only feel the shock and pain of the hit.
Don't forget: you are their role model, and your child could immediately demonstrate this new behaviour on you or an unsuspecting 'friend' in the park.
How to use time-out
Time-outs are an effective discipline for most age groups. It's essential to act immediately and not leave it until "we get you home"...
Find a safe place
A child who has been hitting, biting, or throwing food, for example, should be told briefly why the behaviour is unacceptable and taken to a designated time-out area free from distractions and left to consider their actions. This could be a kitchen chair or the bottom stair (or a bench at the park!), for a minute per year of their age, to help them calm down.
Don't give up
The behaviour could continue a few more times, so you must remain consistent and calmly give them a time-out again (and perhaps again after that). They are little and very much learning!
Remove fun items
Sending children to their rooms doesn't have the same impact if they have toys, a computer or TV up there, and their room should be a safe place that they can go to voluntarily.
How to use distractions
Nip it in the bud
Noticing a possible trend in a child's behaviour - for example taking a toy to a sibling and then biting them - could be defused by distraction. You can ask your child to find another toy to replace this initial kind deed and then immediately present a purpose i.e. "let's now drive this car to teddy bear."
Don't dwell on it
Distraction is a very useful tool and can really help with moving things on from the last 5 minutes. It's key that you don't dwell on the bad behaviour.
Distraction might come in the form of a light-hearted game once your child has had their time-out. A great example would be to tidy away the toys to get something new out and count the items you have, or ask to find the cars amongst the jigsaw pieces. Choose an activity that encourages you to be happily engaged together!
Saying "no" to your child
Don't be afraid
Children, even when very young babies, are very curious about their world. When a baby starts crawling, we immediately start to remove temptations such as remote controls, mobile phones, and low level ornaments of value - but there are still items of great interest that remain.
When your baby or toddler heads towards an unacceptable or dangerous play object, calmly but firmly say "no" and either remove your child from the area, or distract him or her with an appropriate activity.
Boundaries in place
This can prove exhausting for you and, although children learn through play and trial and error, they must also learn boundaries and the things you find unacceptable (like biting your shoulder whilst carrying them).
Saying an assertive "no" to a young child teaches them the true meaning of the word. It's very difficult to undo this and start applying when they become preschool age. It's an extremely important word they'll need to learn and react to in later life.
Using reward charts
Reward charts are a very visual way of helping a child identify an area of concern and monitor their actions. Older children can have a box for every day of the week, which should be displayed somewhere highly visible - in the kitchen, perhaps - and a child will take a sense of pride when putting a tick in the box with you.
Do speak together about how many times the expected behaviour must be displayed before they receive their reward - it's a good idea to note these details down!
Try not to leave it too long before they receive gratification and, if possible, try to avoid making their reward a monetary value.
It could simply be making time for an activity of their choosing, i.e. a trip to the swings or to feed the ducks, baking together, cinema, arranging a play date, or football or tennis at the weekend.
Keep it consistent
Once this begins to work, praise your child daily for learning to control their behaviour.
Younger children need to receive their reward on a daily basis; having 10 minutes of quality time together before bed to say "well done", and enjoy some jigsaws or a short board game together can really help before the evening routine starts.
Giving advanced warnings
Just a heads up
Giving your child advanced warning that something is about to happen - such as bedtime, the boring food shop, or their homework - prepares a child for what is shortly required.
This can be done in a few different ways, depending on the situation or the child's level of understanding:
- Give a five minute warning (and the use of a kitchen timer can come in quite handy on these occasions!)
- Negotiate that at the end of [insert activity here], it's time for [insert next activity here] to happen, e.g. "at the end of Peppa Pig, the television goes off."
These are very easy to implement, and give good clarity to the situation. It does require us to factor this into the routine and prevents the child from suddenly being told they must do something "now", which we would not take kindly to!
The need to be organised and have either the homework books ready or shopping bags by the front door is key, so you can concentrate on moving the situation on.
Setting rules for your children
Every home has rules, so be clear that you make these - should the walls suddenly have crayon on them instead of the paper provided, they will be taken away.
Changing your immediate response of "take your shoes off" to "please take off your shoes and then you can play..." can have a positive response too.
Also, be consistent when friends come to visit who display the same behaviour; you need to correct this in the same manner. The rules of your home remain the same for all!
Make sure that a punishment is something that you would carry through with, for example: "if you keep fighting, we won't go out all weekend." It's best just to say "there won't be an ice cream at the fayre later," sticking to your word and acting immediately.
Children will eventually start to show that they have an understanding of the power of choice. Usually, there are two choices for most situations, with very different outcomes; one being the right way and the other being the wrong way!
When the situation has calmed, it's key to briefly talk the situation through with them and help them gain some form of understanding. This will help them to form opinions positively, shaping their future thinking and building foundations for their early teens.
Making it work for your family
Avoid comparisons to other children
We are always told to not draw comparisons between our own children and others, and it is difficult to do; they learn and have different experiences with different people who have different expectations, which results in different responses constantly.
Stop judging other parents
You never know what's been going on in their lives. Something one friend said to me has always remained:
Never judge or criticise another parent's way of managing behaviour, as you really have no idea what they're up against!
Reward, reward, reward
Lastly, it's very easy to become all-consumed with the bad behaviours, but please don't forget to reward the good. Some children can become all too aware that bad behaviour gets your attention and will happily continue.
Don't underestimate the positive effect that your praise can have. Regularly encourage them - you might say "you were so kind today and shared your toys" or "look how nicely you are eating your dinner. I'm so pleased!"
This is much more effective than punishing a child for the opposite behaviour, and gets your attention for all the right reasons.