Early Years Education specialist Carrie Johnson shares her tips on how to help guide your child through various behaviours
There is literally no way to avoid some form of bad behaviour with children; this is what makes them human and there are times when so-called ‘bad’ behaviour is actually just children’s way of exploring the world around them. However, there are times when behaviour can have you tearing your hair out and desperate for help! So here are some practical solutions to help guide you through when your child’s behaviour is not what you’d expect or want from them.
One of the things to address first and foremost is the expectations you have for your child. Are they realistic? For example; asking a two year old to sit still for any length of time above ten minutes is actually beyond their capabilities (the rule of thumb for this is five minutes for every year of their age).
Asking a child to stop ‘messing around’ with something that intrigues and excites them may also be a battle you can’t win. To them they aren’t being naughty – they may have found the most exciting new toy. In this situation, it may work better to assess the situation and see it from their point of view. Once you’ve done that you may find a way to compromise or you may decide the behaviour your child is exhibiting isn’t naughty, it’s normal.
Support their Emotional Intelligence
Building your child’s emotional “piggy bank” is the BEST possible way to ensure better behaviour. Imagine we all have an emotional account and negativity creates a withdrawal each time. If a child is misbehaving regularly and attracting negative attention, then it won’t be long before they are running on empty and this will lead to them gaining pleasure from making you angry. Children crave attention and even anger is better than being ignored. It may seem absurd to be offering rewards and praise when a child is acting out the majority of the time. However, catching them when they’re good and offering praise and therefore attention for the good behaviour will encourage them to act like this more often. Praise and positivity are the best ways to make “deposits” in order to boost the balance in your child’s emotional bank account.
In trying to offer support and encouragement, it’s important to frame your instructions in the positive rather than the negative and this involves naming behaviours you’d like to see. If you tell a child to stop kicking, they just hear “kicking”, but if you ask them to keep their feet to themselves or to stand nicely, they hear the positive behaviour that you want them to exhibit. This also works in describing what you’d like them to do in the morning. “I want you to put on your coat now and walk to the door.”
There are times when it is helpful to share your own feelings with your child and using an “I” Message is a way to express your needs in a respectful way. An “I” Message involves describing the behaviour your child is exhibiting and describing how it makes you feel and the things its affecting. Be clear and specific and only talk about what is happening in the moment, not the past. Don’t use the words “always” and “never.” For example: “You never do what I tell you to do.” However, remember don’t use “I” Messages too often, it may seem to your children that their feelings don’t matter.
There are often times when a child refuses to do what is asked of them and you resort to bribery, shouting and threats. They may be refusing to put a coat on or they may still be playing with toys when you’ve asked them to tidy away. Limiting their choice is a successful way to avoid the tantrums by empowering them to make a choice within a limit that you’ve created, therefore ensuring either outcome is satisfactory to you.
Use a “When, then” statement to limit the options rather than asking a question, “When you put on your paint apron, then you may paint at the easel.” Provide a choice: “Do you want to wear the green or yellow paint apron?”
Avoid giving a choice when the child has no choice. For example, avoid saying “Do you want to wear a paint apron?” or “Do you want to go home now?”
Logical consequence is a respectful way to instil discipline and encourage your child to take responsibility for their actions. As opposed to punishments; logical consequences link directly to the behaviour and support children to learn from their mistakes. Logical consequence also requires a parent to gather more information about the situation and get input from the child to determine what needs to be done. Always ensure a child knew what was expected of them. Then consider what problem the behaviour is creating and what could help to solve this problem.
Logical consequences should relate directly to the behaviour. The logical consequence of not tidying up toys could be that those toys are removed for a time being and the child won’t be allowed access to them the next time they want to play. The logical consequence for fighting with a sibling over a toy, is that the toy also gets removed.
Remember logical consequences won’t work in every situation but to help create situations where they will work, offer up a ” now and then” situation. For example, “Now we will do this and then we will do that. ” The ‘now’ will involve expected behaviour and the ‘then’ may involve a treat. When ‘now’ doesn’t happen the logical consequence is that neither does the treat as this was clearly defined in advance.
Sometimes children also need to experience natural consequences of their actions such as getting cold when they refuse to wear a coat. Logical consequence should also be issued in a calm environment and not as a knee jerk reaction to a behaviour.