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5 positive ways to help your child’s challenging behaviour

Managing difficult behaviour in childrenWhether it’s attempting to stop the daily tantrums at daycare drop-off, or making bedtime a smooth process without hours of resistance, trying to improve a child’s behaviour can be a testing experience for parents.

However, these situations are also an opportunity to help your child grow into a resilient adult.

Positive discipline can help with this. This is about using consistent strategies to help your child identify their unfavourable behaviour, as well as understand your expectations and the consequences.

Approaching discipline in this way may sound easier said than done, particularly when you’re feeling stressed or overtired, but evidence tells us it is far more effective than yelling or using physical punishment.

Here are some tips that might help you out:

Be clear about the behaviour you are asking for

Remember the age and abilities of your child. Too many instructions at the one time can be overwhelming and confusing for younger children. For example, telling a 4-year old, “Time for bed. Put your toys away, brush your teeth, put your pyjamas on and choose a book for us to read”, will make it hard for them to remember and therefore not able to follow through on all you’ve asked. Also, if you want your child to do something, make sure you say what you expect in a calm voice.

An easy trap with giving an instruction is framing it as a question. For example, “Could you go clean up your bedroom now?” invites the child to say “no thank you”. Instead, try to say something like, “it’s time for you to clean you room please” or if you have time to provide some warning, “in five minutes it is time for you to clean your room please”.

Thanking and use of praise

Thanking your child after they do what you ask shows them it is important to acknowledge people for their actions. It teaches children to respect and appreciate what others do for them, which is an important life lesson.

Praising good behaviour is also important. This does not have to be over the top, a simple thumbs up or high five will do. Children quickly learn when you are being sarcastic or not genuine, and this can result in them choosing not to listen to you, so you need to use a positive tone when praising them.

You can also use reasonable rewards to promote positive behaviour. Helping your child know there are positive consequences to their behaviour allows them to realise they can make choices about their actions and the outcomes. This is as powerful as reminding them of what may happen if they choose not to do the right action. Some parents think rewards are the same as bribes. They’re not.

A bribe is given before the behaviour you want, whereas a reward is given after. Rewards reinforce good behaviour – bribes don’t.

Include your child in rule making at home

Rules in a home allow children to know what behaviour is expected of them. Depending on the age of your child, including them in rule making can help them to understand and accept the consequences if the rules are not followed. This also empowers your child to take responsibility for their actions. Your child may be less likely to break the rules they helped create.

Clear rules on what to do, rather than what NOT to do

Rules stating the behaviour you want are more useful. For example, “No running in the house” leaves the child open to hopping and skipping, because it is not running, whereas “walk in the house” is clear about the expected behaviour. Have a practice with your child and praise them for doing the right thing. Try to have only a few rules so they are easy to remember.

Have clear and unchanging consequences

As important as having rules is having clear and unchanging consequences if the rules are not followed. Consistency is key in allowing your child to predict the consequences of their behaviour, resulting in them feeling secure and more likely to accept the outcomes when they misbehave. Try to ignore attempts to renegotiate the consequences, and avoid getting caught in a debate – no one wins in those scenarios.

Teaching your child that they are making choices about their behaviour, that they need to consider the consequences before deciding on their actions and accept the outcomes, is a key life lesson for adulthood.

Encouraging better behaviour from your child rather than demanding it is a much more effective approach. It can also do a lot for the quality of your relationship with your child.

About Leith Sterling

Leith Sterling is the Executive Director, Child and Family Services, The Benevolent Society. Leith manages the service delivery for child development, community development, early childhood education, child protection ...

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