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Dealing with difficult behaviour

Children do not usually misbehave just to upset or annoy their parents. There is often a reason   behind a child’s behavior. It may be that they are upset or anxious about something, feel jealous of their sibling, want to spend time with their parent, or may want their parent to listen to them. Behavior patterns can get stuck. At some point most children will misbehave to get attention. If a parent doesn’t pay much attention when children are behaving well, some children will try acting up to get attention.

Coping under pressure

Coping with your child’s misbehavior can be stressful. Sometimes it can seem like you are about to reach boiling point. Parents need to find ways to reduce the pressure in the home and can do a lot to change their child’s behavior through positive parenting. In fact, parents can make the difference between their child’s behavior getting out of control, and helping them manage everyday life in better ways. Here are some tips for helping with children’s behavior:

1) Talk and listen

Getting to know your child and knowing what makes him angry or upset can help you prevent unwanted situations before they happen. Talking and listening to your child helps them to understand what’s going on:
  • Language: try to use positive words. Tell your child what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.  Instead of “don’t make such as mess” try “tidy up your toys please”.  This is an example of positive parenting.

  • Change your tone: your voice is a powerful too. Sometimes changing your tone or volume can be enough to stop a fraught situation or get your child to do what you want. This can work equally well with older children. If you react or speak in a manner completely different to what they expected they might be surprised.

  • Listening: your child is trying out his new language and needs to be heard. Encourage your child to talk to you- sit beside him –they will find it easier to talk and listen to you if you are not standing over them.

  • Feelings: help them find the words to tell you how they are feeling, even if it takes time.

  • Explaining: if you have to say “no”, give your child a good reason and offer an alternative-“your brother is playing with the car now, let’s find you another toy”

  • Involve your child: where possible talk with them about the rules and what you expect from them. Be clear.

  • Discussion: as they get older discuss the setting of rules with them.

Telling them you love them, and show them by smiling, cuddling, and kissing them. Tell them when you are cross, or when you are not happy with their behavior. They need to realize that it is the behavior you don’t like and not them.

2) Play

If children are playing, they are less likely to be throwing tantrums. If you have got a lot to do in a short space of time, set up an activity that will give you that all important extra half an hour. Play is important and enjoyable, and children can learn a lot form it. Children need time to play on their own, with others and with their parents, as long as they play safely. A few ideas for play might be:
  • Painting, drawing, and colouring: children enjoy creating works of art and the messier the better!

  • Water: a washing up bowl of water and a couple of cups or a plastic jug can keep a toddler busy for ages.

  • Imagination: get out some teddies and dolls and create a tea party, a zoo made up of all sizes and shapes of toys or arrange a shop with some of the unbreakable contents of your kitchen cupboards- let their imagination run wild.

  • Keep it simple: try to keep a box of toys, crayons, and play dough handy and make the most of bath time for playing with a couple of cups and a sponge.

  • Join in: once you have got everything out of the way, take five minutes to get into what your child is doing-show them what they are doing is important.

3)   Understanding changes as they grow

Children’s needs and understanding changes as they grow, and what might be expected for a four year old can’t be expected of a two year old:
  • Exploring: young children find out about their world by touching, shaking, tasting, pouring, squeezing…..the list is endless! This is not naughtiness, but a way of learning about their world. Make your home toddler proof by storing valuables and breakables away from your child so they can explore safely. The mess is worth the trouble if you think of all the learning they are doing.

  • Independence: part of growing up for your child will be pushing against the boundaries and becoming an individual. You can help them by letting them do as much for themselves as possible-for young children; keep toys at a child’s height, let them dress and feed themselves.

  • Encouragement: your child will learn what’s okay to do from you, so give lots of praise and attention to good behavior. If you only pay attention to your child when they misbehave, they will learn to misbehave to get your attention.

4) Set boundaries

Children need clear rules, boundaries and routine.
  • Be consistent

  • Parents need to agree the rules. It will help the child if both parents take the same approach.

  • When you say "no", mean "no". keeping to this can be hard work, but if you have a few clear rules, it helps you and your children.

  • If you make promises keep them.

  • Rules should be simple and clear.

  • Keep as few rules as possible

  • Try one new routine at a time and get it working before moving on to the next.

5)   Reward and notice good behavior

Sometimes it is easy to ignore your child when they are behaving well, and only notice them when they are misbehaving. Children love their parent’s attention, and if they have to behave badly to get it, they will. Give them lots of praise when they are behaving well, rather than focusing on misbehavior.
  • Rewards do not have to be material things.

  • Real praise and encouragement is the best reward as it can boost a child and build self esteem and confidence.

  • Try not to stress over the little things. If you are praising things they are doing well, and ignoring the small niggles, your child will learn that unacceptable behavior no longer gets them the attention.

6)  Build self confidence

Building your child’s self confidence will help them to try out new things, make friends and cope with the upsets and problems they meet as they grow up.
  • Finding out: give your child the chance to face new experiences and challenges with your support.

  • Love:  tell your child that you love them; it is great to smile, cuddle and kiss them.

  • Independence: don’t try to solve every problem for your child-sorting it out for themselves can be a boost to their confidence

  • Praise: as a general rule, try to give five times more praise than criticism

  • Avoid comparisons: all children are unique. Don’t compare your child to other children and share that with the child, they will grow up to compare themselves unfavorably with others.

7)  Have realistic expectations and allow consequences

Children are children. They will be messy, noisy and at times, disobedient.
  • Give them the freedom to make mistakes.

  • Encourage your child to think for themselves and take responsibility for their actions.

8)  Deal with meltdown moments positively

There will be difficult times for every family-usually when there is too much to do in a short space of time, or when what you need to do, clashes with what your child wants to do.

Recognize triggers

There might be some specific triggers or times when your child misbehaves. Be aware of these and try different approaches like the morning rush, at the supermarket checkout, at playtime, or at bed time.

Things that you can try out
  • Distraction: for young children, try distracting their attention away from what you don’t want them to do.

  • Time out: one alternative to physical punishment is to put your child in a dull but safe place for a period of time. The child should be of an age and ability to understand that they are to stay there until you tell the otherwise. The time limit should be one minute for every year of the child’s life.

  • Withdraw privileges: for dealing with serious misbehavior, try withdrawing privileges, for example, favourite programmes, playing with games, loss of pocket money, grounding etc.

  • Be a role model: it is your responsibility to set an example for your child, by your own behavior and attitude.

9)  Look after yourself

If you make sure you get a break to relax, this may help you cope better. Try to :
  • Take time out for yourself

  • Keep interests outside the home

  • Take up the offer of help from family and friends

  • Get rest when you can

  • Look after your health

  • Know your limits

  • Get together with other parents and their children.

10) When things are getting difficult

Stay calm
  • If it is impossible to stay calm, leave the child in safe place and leave the room for few minutes. This will give you breathing space to think.

  • When you return, talk to your child about what has happened and how will you deal with it.

  • Think about what happened, what set off the behavior, has it happened before and what could be done differently?

  • Ask for help and advice- nobody gets it right all the time.

  • As a general rule, try and give five times more praise than criticism.

  • Don’t try to change too much at once-take one tip and use it until you have worked it out and then try another.

  • Flexibility is fine- life can be chaotic and having a flexible approach will help your children learn to do the same.


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