Being a parent can be hard at times, especially when it comes to knowing how to deal with your child’s behaviour. It may seem sometimes that you have just got to the bottom of one thing, and then something new presents itself – a new behaviour or challenge you haven’t seen before and you feel unsure of how to deal with.
As young children move through different development stages in their life it can be a tricky time for both the parent and the child. During these stages, children are learning and processing a lot of information and that can be scary and confusing for them. It is important therefore, that during this time when they are developing independence and working out their place in the world, that some loving firmness and boundary setting is needed from their parents, and that the parents appear in control, happy and secure – after all children will often feed from and mirror our emotions.
Boundaries are important for a happy child because they help to create safety and they feel protected by knowing what is expected of them. We can all relate to this as adults in our own lives, through work and social situations for example. Boundaries help children to know that you care about them (even though it might not seem that way sometimes!).
As children grow older and move through stages of development, they will push boundaries and test them, and at this point is it important that parents revisit parameters they have set for their children to ensure they are still appropriate.
All of the points above help to create a trusting relationship and this is the most valuable tool you have when dealing with your children’s behaviour in an effective and supportive way.
We have all been there as parents. Your child is playing up, not listening to your requests, pushing your buttons. You can feel your patience running out, your temper rising and your ability to remain calm fading before you with feelings of exasperation creeping in. Sound familiar?
Before we can expect to successfully manage the behaviour of other people, however, we need to manage our own. When we are frustrated and upset, strategies can go out of the window and this will not only leave you feeling disappointed, but also give confusing and unclear messages to your child. Breathing and relaxation is an excellent technique you can use for both adults and children to calm down. You can read about the importance of breathing and the link it has to both your physical and mental health, along with a simple-to-follow breathing exercise in our blog here.
Do you have rules at home?
Most parents would say yes they do. But are these rules clear, and do ALL members of the family know what is expected of them?
One of the keys to creating rules is to ensure they are consistent. This way the messages that children learn are getting clearer and easy to understand. If both parents are playing by different rules then this can cause splitting which is a defence mechanism used by children where they may favour one parent over another if they know perhaps one is more lenient towards their behaviour. Another point to consider is do any other family members look after your children and how do they deal with inappropriate behaviour.
Some top tips to ensure good rules and systems are being put in place are:
“Our children are counting on us to provide two things: Consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean why they say, and do what they say they are going to do” – Barbara Coloroso
Like anything, it can be easy to get lost in the moment. When something is distressing us, we are so close to it, so emotionally involved and it can be very hard to take a step back and think objectionably about what is happening.
Taking a ‘Helicopter view’ means taking a step back and looking at the situation by seeing the bigger picture. Imagine a helicopter taking off and the higher it gets, the detail at ground level becomes less, and we see more in our vision. The same approach can be taken with our children’s behaviour. If you can feel yourself getting suffocated by the situation and feel your emotional brain taking over, try and take a deep breath and pull back from the situation. This will help you see things much more rationally and clearly.
It is important to remember to not take your child’s behaviour personally, something that we have all done before. Your child’s behaviour is a form of communication, and by trying to establish what they are trying to tell us, this should help us determine how we react to it.
When you are dealing with your child’s behaviour and you have already repeated yourself several times it can be easy to, sometimes subconsciously, lose your patience and let the tone of your voice increase and the softness disappear replaced with more harsh, threatening tones. As we all know, this rarely ever improves the situation (sometimes fuelling the behaviour) and usually results in overwhelmed, emotional parents and children.
We have all heard the phrase “like a broken record” describing when something is repeated over and over again – the same tone, the same pace, almost rhythmical. This is a great technique you can use with your children when dealing with their behaviour. By repeating your request and not deviating when your child’s behaviour escalates, you will be giving them a clearer and more consistent message.
5. Be Positive and Descriptive
It has happened to us all at some point in our life. Where someone is trying hard to tell us what they want, repeating the request several times and we still can’t quite understand what it is they need from us. Usually the reason behind this is that we do not have enough understanding of the task in question and perhaps we aren’t capable of it, or, the person giving the request isn’t making themselves very clear.
It is important to say exactly what you want your child to do by breaking down the behaviours into component parts. Also to model the behaviours we would like our children to follow ourselves, for example not saying “We don’t have screens at the table” and then using your phone!.
Some tips to follow:
6. Reinforce Positive Behaviour
Positive reinforcement is crucial to help children feel good about the choices that they make. If they receive nice comments this will then also further motivate them to continue these behaviours in order to continue to receive them.
Ways You Can Reinforce Positive Behaviour
Why is it important?
7. Choose Your Battles
You know the face, the one where out the corner of your eye they are looking to see if you are watching, waiting for you to watch them so they can carry out the ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. They can be tricky, and will often look for a reaction.
Where you can, ignore these behaviours! Sometimes they are specifically designed to gain negative attention and are commonly referred to as ‘testing the boundaries’. When they stop and engage in the desired behaviours, it helps to respond immediately.
8. Offer the Illusion of Choice
Children don’t like to be told what to do, and it is important that they are given a choice. It doesn’t always have to matter what their choice is “Would you like an apple or a pear?” but it is important that they feel they are given a real choice whilst learning about decision making and also the cause and effects of such decisions.
The same concept can be used for behaviour. Imagine your child wants to play his computer game, despite it being dinnertime. You may say, ‘You can come and have dinner now or lose five minutes of your computer time.’ Not choosing either is not a choice.
By giving your child a choice, it allows them to save face by deciding for themselves, thus defusing any anger. Give your child a moment of ‘thinking’ time, and then praise them for making the right decision.
9. Acknowledge Your Child’s Perspective
There is nothing more frustrating that when you think someone isn’t taking into consideration your point of view or your feelings on something. This happens a lot with children because they will lack a certain understanding as to why they are being asked to stop doing something, or aren’t allowed to do something. An adult would have additional understanding and knowledge as to the reasoning behind the request.
If we think back to point 8 when we were discussing offering the illusion of choice and we used the example of your child wanting to play their computer game, despite it being dinner time. By offering a choice ‘You can come and have dinner now or lose five minutes of your computer time’ it may help defuse what could become an angry situation. The choice however may not work and the child might become upset and say ‘I just want to spend five minutes more on the computer’.
It is important at this point to acknowledge your child’s perspective rather than allowing yourself to get frustrated and snappy. Your reply might be “Yes, I can see you are upset and want to play on the computer, but I’d like you to come for dinner now.” This strategy can help de-escalate conflict by agreeing with your child’s request, but reasserting the require behaviour.
10. Separate the Child from the Behaviour
It is very easy to fall into the trap of saying “Don’t be a naughty boy/girl” when you child is being trying. It is very important however to separate the child from the behaviour. If a child is continuously referred to as naughty, then this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A sociologist called Robert K.Merton created this term in 1948 to describe ‘a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come true’. In other words, if you tell your child they are naughty, they will believe they are and their behaviour as a result could become worse.
When your child is behaving in a way that you do not like, remember this – it is the message ‘I like you. I do not like what you are doing’ that you want to give to your child. In order to do this, think back to step 1- Managing your own state, acknowledge what your child is feeling and say to them ‘ You are not a bad boy/girl, I need you to come for dinner now.’
11. Be Consistent
Like we discussed in point 2 with rules and rewards, children need consistency. Being consistent gives clarity and the message that you are a safe, known quantity and a fair person. When children know where they stand, there is less confusion.
As with rewards, discipline also needs to be consistent. If you are clear on the boundaries, your child will also be clear on what is expected behaviour.
Some top tips to help with being consistent include:
12. Mistakes Happen
Children are learning all the time and quite often they will make mistakes. After all, this is how we learn, even as adults. Children will sometimes exhibit inappropriate behaviours and instead of scolding, parents can help their children by modelling the right behaviours.
For example – if a young person is hitting or naughty – you do not reprimand them by smacking them, this would not be modelling the right behaviours to your child, instead sending them very mixed messages. What parents can do is the show their children that when mistakes happen we can apologise and put things right. Sometimes we all do things wrong, it is how we respond that is important.
Every journey is different and there is no “one size fits all” path to transformation. I want everyone to feel acknowledged and validated, so I always invest the time to understand your unique situation, to build trust and create a safe space for us to successfully work together.
Together we will build a trusting relationship and create a safe space for your child to make sense of sad, angry, painful, and confusing feelings and thoughts towards more agreed positive outcomes.
Asking for help is not a weakness! We all encounter difficult times at some point in our lives due to societal norms, our culture, upbringing, and our own expectations. Talking to a trained professional will make a huge difference to your health, happiness, and productivity. I offer psychotherapy treatment for people of all ages, gender, and backgrounds.
When someone in the family has a mental health problem or illness, it affects the entire family’s dynamics and behaviours and sometimes parents and other family members don’t really know how to support them…or themselves. Can you relate? A happy and connected family is possible and I can help you to bridge the gap from frustration to fun.
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