Why does it seem that someone else’s children are more badly behaved than our own? Or other children appear to be so good in a way that we can only hope for with ours? Perhaps it’s just that we don’t notice our own children’s behaviour – good or bad – when others might. Jo Hemmings, celebrity and behavioural psychologist, offers her trouble-shooting advice
Whether we like it or not, times are certainly changing with regards to disciplining children. Smacking is outlawed, our lives are busier than ever and perhaps we simply don’t have the time or energy to instil ‘perfect’ behaviour in our kids. Also we probably no longer feel inclined to discipline them to the exacting standards of previous generations. We are more laid back.
Children don’t come with an instruction manual, of course, and much of what we do as a parent is on a trial and error basis. Children are all different, too – and even if you have one (almost) perfectly behaved child there is absolutely no guarantee that your other children will be equally well-behaved. Plus, just when we get to a stage when we think we’ve got our child’s behaviour under control – along comes another phase whether that’s the ‘terrible two’s’ or early adolescence that seems to turn it all on its head!
However you choose to discipline your children, the key to success is surely setting boundaries and being consistent with those boundaries. It’s also about making your children understand that certain actions have certain consequences, enabling them to exercise self-restraint rather than simply being kept under your control.
Many parents also fear that their child will behave even more poorly in public as a result of being disciplined and so avoid possible tantrums by turning a blind eye to their behaviour or becoming defensive if other people point it out. While this is understandable, it not only sends out a poor and inconsistent message to your child, effectively rewarding them for poor behaviour by not being told off – it also sets up a vicious circle where the child is effectively in control.
It’s important to remember that it’s our parental duty to raise a child into becoming a responsible adult. And that even as adults, we still make occasional errors of judgement or do something we recognise isn’t the most appropriate behaviour. For a child this sort of defiance – which is a perfectly natural process to independence – isn’t just about being naughty. It’s about testing boundaries or being tired or hungry or bored and isn’t some sort of innate ‘badness’.
Just as bending down to talk to a young child at his or her level can make them feel more secure, trying to view the world from an ever-changing child-centric perspective is helpful in understanding why they may be behaving badly. These five simple strategies are useful to keep in mind.
Be consistent – in standards of behaviour as well as lifestyle, meal and bed times for example. Whether you choose to punish your child for bad behaviour or reward good behaviour – keep your method as consistent as possible.
Appropriate rules – make sure your child can understand the rules that you want to enforce and be flexible enough to adjust these as your child gets older.
Use positive language – avoid ‘don’t’ and ‘no’ as much as possible and encourage sharing and respect for others feelings.
Adapt your lifestyle – it’s much easier to keep your child’s behaviour in check if you can help them avoid situations that might encourage poor behaviour. Putting anything fragile out of reach for example, or avoiding those shops that have sweets at the check-out.
Consequences – try to help your children to understand the nature of action and consequence. Whether that’s a natural consequence – leaving a soft toy in the rain will mean it will get wet and not be very nice to play with any more. Or a rule breaking consequence, such as a forbidden behaviour resulting in a cancelled planned activity, will instil a sense of self-control in your child.
How do you tackle your child’s behaviour? We’d love to know your thoughts on Jo’s advice and what works for you.