To Be Reconciled After Childish Behabiour
Acting out, acting their age or something more serious? Dealing with difficult behaviour in children
This series draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, the experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.
At some stage in every child’s life they will exhibit defiant, impulsive or even disobedient behaviours.
A lot of this is normal, but when behaviour disrupts a child’s everyday functioning, it becomes abnormal and parents should seek professional advice. Parents can make a difference by using evidence-based strategies to encourage positive behaviours.
When does ‘normal’ behaviour become abnormal behaviour?
For almost one in seven Australians aged four to 17 years, the occurrence of disruptive behaviour is significant in nature, persists over time and tends to mismatch with their developmental stage.
Signs the behaviours are more severe include if it impacts on the child’s functioning at school or with family and friends, and if it causes the child personal distress. These indicate the behaviour needs deeper investigation and the support of a specialised professional as early as possible.
There is disagreement about whether preschool-aged children can or should be diagnosed with disorders, given the vast range of behaviour considered “normal” at this age. Most disorders tend to be diagnosed in school aged children, generally aged 10-14 years.
If a child’s own behaviour causes them distress, this may be a signal that they have more severe behaviourla issues. Shutterstock
Where can parents go for help?
Knowing where to start can be overwhelming when seeking support for severe and persistent disruptive behaviour. Avoid “Dr. Google” or websites claiming to provide symptom checkers, as they can give alarmist findings.
You should read and learn more about the various behavioural disorders to become informed, but always make sure you’re using reputable sources. These include beyondblue, Reach Out, Headspace, KidsMatter and MindMatters.
Some of the resources teacher educators refer to can be useful, such as Response Ability, which provides fact sheets and podcasts on various behavioural disorders.If you’re still concerned after doing some reading, a visit to the GP is a good starting point. The GP can provide an initial assessment and refer the child and family to other professionals if additional assessment, treatment and support are necessary.
Access to specialists, such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist, requires a GP’s referral. Referrals are not required to visit a psychologist, but it’s best to visit the GP initially to help determine whether this is necessary. The GP can also refer to someone they highly recommend.
Pitfalls of punishment
Meltdowns, yelling and defiance or even being ignored by a child is usually normal – most ly, they are just acting their age. For the majority of children, instances of disruptive behaviour are minor in nature and infrequent. Importantly though, it’s possible to prevent difficult behaviour by using some effective, evidence-based strategies.
Read more: 'No, I don't wanna… wahhhh!' A parent's guide to managing tantrums
Research shows using positive strategies to address difficult behaviour is more effective than using punishment or coercion. Although you might notice an immediate response, punishment only temporarily stops the behaviour, and it’s ly the behaviour will appear again in the future.
Think about when you drive past a speed camera. What do most people do? They temporally slow down, but once they’ve passed the camera they usually speed up again.
Punishment and can have a number of negative consequences, including rebellion. Shutterstock
Punishment also has a number of unintended consequences, such as undermining relationships. It can lead to rebellion and reduces a person’s autonomy and problem-solving skills.
Effective strategies to improve behaviour
Using positive behavioural strategies not only decreases unwanted behaviour, it promotes positive social behaviour and strengthens relationships. Some strategies will be more effective than others, depending on the child’s preferences. Try a few different strategies, and if one doesn’t work, stop using it. Move to another technique. Try some of these effective strategies:
- give attention through warmth and affection when your child is behaving appropriately. Tell them what about their behaviour you , and smile when praising. For example, “I really when you listen carefully, we can get so much more done and get to the good things faster”
- give praise and rewards immediately after the desirable behaviour is displayed, rather than waiting until later
- think about what your child would value as a reward so it has appeal and drives their motivation to be good. Would they prefer time to play on a device, a toy, food treat, or choice of a movie?
- for particularly challenging behaviour, consider setting up a reward chart. Reward your child frequently throughout the day by catching them being good and when you notice improvements, gradually reduce how often you reward them
- offering choices helps them feel ownership over decision making and assist them in evaluating the consequences of their choices
- know when to ignore, and when to intervene. It’s unrealistic to discipline every challenging behaviour, so ignore the little things. Consider overlooking the occasional mess, whining or slowness to respond to requests
- give clear instructions and set behaviour expectations, such as “use a talking voice at all times” or “keep your hands and feet to yourself” and so on. Negotiating the expectations with your child will increase their commitment to follow them. You can maximise the effectiveness of setting rules by also negotiating rewards for successfully following them and consequences if they do not
- before you leave the house, remind them of the rules and the rewards for following them
- actively listen to your child by stopping what you’re doing and taking time out. Behaviour concerns often arise because the child is seeking your attention.
If bad behaviour continues after employing positive behavioural strategies, it’s time to introduce consequences. Shutterstock
If you find the behaviour persists after using a range of positive strategies, it’s time to introduce consequences. A continuum of consequences start with the least obtrusive strategies and incrementally increase in severity.
Read more: What are the best ways to discipline kids?
First, use prompts such as eye contact or facial expressions to note disapproval.
Then, remind them of what behaviour you want to encourage. For example, “what should you be doing?”
Move closer to the child and use a calm matter-of-fact tone of voice, or try using a whisper voice.Redirect behaviour by giving choices. For older children, ask them what would be a better choice of behaviour. For younger children, give them constrained choices. For example, please put the lollies back in the bag or give all of the lollies to me.
Remind the child of the behaviour you do want to see.
Let them know they have three warnings and what the consequence is if they continue. Follow through on this, and don’t change the number of warnings or consequence. This means you need to be measured in the timing of your warnings and match the action to the consequence. Consistency is the key.
Finally, when used well, time out can be effective. Consider having an appropriate location for the time-out period. It needs to be quiet, private with minimal stimulation.
Act quickly after the behaviour occurs and give a concise reason for sending them to time-out. Prompt them to think about what they could have been doing differently. Ignore secondary behaviours while in the time-out period ( screaming, wriggling or pleading).
Avoid talking to them until the end of the time-out period. Two to three minutes is usually the amount of time. Before exiting, ask the child to remind you why they were put in time out and what they could have done differently. Catch them being good as soon as you can and remind them how much you love them.
Escalating Defiant Child Behavior
“It started out with my daughter yelling ‘NO’ whenever she didn’t get her way when she was a toddler. Then when she got into elementary school, she started throwing things and slamming doors any time she didn’t get what she wanted. I thought it was just a phase.
Over time, it got to a point where I was walking on eggshells — you never knew when she was going to have a fit because she wasn’t happy. And it kept getting worse. Now that she’s in middle school, she’s throwing things at me, cursing at us and destroying stuff in our house.
It’s being in a landslide — and she’s defying me about almost everything.”
Before you had kids, you probably expected your child to misbehave at times. Acting out behavior is nothing new, after all––you probably didn’t follow all of your parent’s rules growing up, yourself. You saw friends – and even strangers – parenting kids who had tantrums in stores or restaurants and it all seemed pretty typical.
Children test limits and parents respond with consequences. That’s the way life goes. It comes with the territory of having kids.
What you probably didn’t expect, though, was that someday — despite your best parenting efforts — your child would not only refuse to respond to your discipline, but the behavior would actually worsen over time.
When Parenting Feels a Nightmare
When a child starts exhibiting behavior problems, parents will try anything they can think of to get a handle on the situation: consequences for negative behavior; rewards for positive behavior; behavior charts; talking about the behavior; talking about how to change the behavior; ignoring the behavior in the hope it will stop if you don’t give it attention; talking about positive ways your child can get your attention. If we can name it, you’ve probably tried it. When a child’s behavior continues to escalate in the face of every discipline technique you can think of, it’s terrifying. Kim Abraham has raised an Oppositional–Defiant child and knows the utter sadness, hurt and frustration that comes from parenting a child who fights against rules and limits. You start to question yourself, your ability to parent effectively, and what’s worse, oftentimes others (teachers, family members, neighbors) start to point the finger of blame at you, too! Fear that you’re failing as a parent can turn to guilt, shame and desperation.
If your child’s behavior has continued to escalate, quickly or over time, take heart. Here are a few tips that can help:
1. Rule Out Other Factors
If your child’s behavior continues to escalate despite all your best efforts, you may want to see a professional to rule out other factors. Some children have undetected medical issues such as allergies (food or otherwise) that can truly impact their behavior.
Other children who are chronically defiant, constantly breaking rules or having trouble handling frustration may be experiencing ADHD, Asperger’s Disorder, anxiety or depression.
If any of these situations are occurring, getting your child the proper help can help him manage his emotions – and behavior – more effectively.There are many reasons a child’s behavior can escalate. It may be that he is becoming increasingly frustrated and simply doesn’t know how to express it. You might also find, after thinking it over, that your own reaction to your child is contributing to the intensity of his behavior.
Are you easily irritated by your child, and if so, how do you respond? Dealing with a child’s negative behavior can leave a parent feeling whipped; you may not realize the role your own behavior is playing in the interactions.
Even your tone of voice or the expression on your face can affect your child.
2. Walking Away Doesn’t Mean You’re Giving Up
It’s easy to get drawn into control battles with a child who argues about everything. There’s often a cycle that goes something this: Your child wants something or experiences an intense negative emotion. You tell her “no” or set a limit. She tries to get you to change your mind.
You stick to your guns. She gets more upset; her emotions and behavior escalate. Your emotions escalate. She tries to get her way. You try to get her to understand your point of view and why the answer is “No.” Things continue to escalate to yelling, swearing or even getting physical.
During a conflict, kids sometimes go into “fight or flight” mode: they get upset, there’s a rush of adrenaline and they don’t know how to release that energy. The longer the conflict continues, the more their adrenaline pumps them up.
Ending the argument by walking away shows your child he doesn’t have to stay in fight–or–flight mode. You can offer him suggestions on how he can get rid of that energy in a more acceptable way than yelling or throwing things.
This can help keep things from hitting the point where they continue to escalate.
Remember: your child doesn’t have to understand why you’re setting a limit. In the old days, parents never spent a lot of time explaining to a child why they were setting a limit. They might give it a sentence or two, but then that–was–that. Discussion over.
You never saw Pa Ingalls arguing with Laura over her chores. Why? Because he’d have said something to the effect of, “Because I said so, now get in the barn and clean up after the horses!” Then he’d have walked away! Over the years, parents have fallen into the trap of talking to our kids too much.
We talk about everything, and we want our kids to be okay with our decisions. The fact is, sometimes they’re not going to be happy about a limit or a consequence and that’s okay. That’s part of learning and growing up and that’s life.You can validate for your child that it’s hard to accept things she doesn’t agree with, and that she may be really upset, disappointed or angry. But don’t fall into the trap of believing you need to justify yourself – or your decisions – to your child and then stand there until she’s okay with it.
If you do, you may be standing there a very long time—ripe for getting further drawn into the power struggle!
3. Accept Your Child
Everyone has their own unique temperament (or disposition) and kids are no different. Some kids tend to be cooperative while some seem to argue about everything. Some are easygoing while others have a low frustration tolerance and are quick to anger. There are kids who are quiet and shy, and those who want to be heard….
every moment of every day! With Oppositional –Defiance, it can be hard to accept a child’s basic personality. You could spend years trying to change your child into someone else, but the bottom line is: this is your child, right now, in this moment. Accepting your child doesn’t mean you accept his behavior or agree with all of his choices.
It does mean that you accept him at a basic level of being human– with his own feelings, flaws and struggles.
4. Continue to Set Limits and Follow Through With Consequences…Even Though It’s Hard
It’s not easy to stand firm in the face of a tornado of emotion your child unleashes on you. It can seem easier to give in and sometimes it is…in the short run. But in the long run, if you can hang in there and remain consistent, your child will come to know that arguing, throwing things and getting physical won’t change your mind or your house rules.
Because it can be so draining — emotionally — to follow through with consequences, you may want to target the most serious behaviors you’re seeing with your child first and then work your way down the list. Don’t give a consequence if you know you’re ly to give in.
Go with a shorter consequence or response you know you’ll be able to stick to, until you’re feeling stronger.
5. Think of Parenting as a Marathon…Not a Sprint
Parenting is for a lifetime. There’s no specific moment where you think, “Well, this is it. My job as a parent is done.” When you’re 50 and your child is an adult, he’ll still be your son. And you’ll still be parenting him (though hopefully in a different way). Your relationship may look different, but it’s still parent and child.
Your goal is to help your child understand the world, how to live in it and what he can expect from others when he behaves in a certain way. Your home is the first place he will learn limits and rules that exist in our society. Parenting means being in it for the long–haul.
Believe it or not, when you continue to consistently provide limits and consequences for your child, over the years he will learn what to expect from you — and from society.
It can be very frightening and frustrating when a child’s behavior continues to escalate. Sometimes we — as parents — go into fight–or–flight mode ourselves, reacting emotion rather than remaining calm and providing consistent consequences and limits.
Your child has the ultimate control over his behavior and choices. As a parent, you can provide discipline, love and guidance. You can support your child by offering positive alternatives to dealing with frustration and you can model those same techniques in the way you respond to your child’s behavior.
Remember to take care of your own emotional wellbeing during these times, as well — get support from friends, this website, other parents or even a professional if you find your strength is suffering in the face of your child’s behavior.
Parenting takes determination, pacing oneself and keeping an eye on the long–term goal. Remember, you are not alone in this marathon!
Using consequences in behaviour management
A consequence is something that happens after your child behaves in a particular way. A consequence can be positive or negative.
There are times when you might choose to use negative consequences for difficult behaviour. For example, you can use negative consequences to enforce limits and reinforce rules when simple reminders haven’t worked.
It really pays to put some thought into how and why you might use consequences. If you overuse negative consequences or use them inconsistently, they can have surprising and unwanted effects.
It’s always best to focus more on giving your child attention for behaving in ways that you . This usually means you’ll need to use negative consequences less.
Behaviour and consequences
When it comes to consequences, there are three common scenarios:
- Your child behaves in a particular way and gets a positive consequence. This increases the lihood of the behaviour happening in the same circumstances in the future. For example, you praise your child for sitting and eating his meal at the table.
- Your child behaves in a particular way and avoids a negative consequence. This increases the lihood of the behaviour happening in the same circumstances in the future. For example, your child takes her muddy boots off at the front door, so she doesn’t have to help clean the mud off the floor.
- Your child behaves in a particular way and gets a negative consequence. This decreases the lihood of the behaviour happening in the same circumstances in the future. For example, your child throws a toy, and you put the toy away for the rest of the day.
A consequence that seems negative to you might be positive to your child. For example, your child’s favourite activity is the sandpit. If your child bites another child while playing with some blocks and is moved away to the sandpit, this will actually encourage his behaviour. To him, it looks the consequence of biting is getting to play in the sandpit!
Natural consequences can be an effective tool in your behaviour management toolkit.
Sometimes it’s best to let children experience the natural consequences of their own behaviour. When children experience the results of their behaviour, they can learn that their actions have consequences. They might learn to take responsibility for what they do.
Here are some examples of natural consequences:
- If your child refuses to put on a coat, she feels cold.
- If your child won’t eat, he feels hungry.
- If your child doesn’t complete her homework, she fails the assignment.
- If your child breaks a rule on the sporting field, he gets sent off.
These are important but hard lessons, and life is often a better and faster teacher than parents are. And you don’t have to be the unfair, bad guy. You can feel for your children, but saying ‘I told you so’ will probably upset them.
Sometimes you do need to step in to protect children from the natural consequences of behaviour. The consequence of dangerous behaviour could be serious injury, and the consequence of persistently avoiding schoolwork can be not doing well at school. And natural consequences can sometimes reward antisocial behaviour – for example, a bully’s aggressive behaviour can be rewarded when a victim ‘gives in’. In situations these, you need to guide your child’s behaviour and apply appropriate consequences.
Related consequences often work well as part of behaviour management.
A ‘related consequence’ – sometimes called a ‘logical consequence’ – is when you impose a consequence that’s related to the behaviour you want to discourage. For example:
- If a child is being silly and spills her drink, she must wipe it up.
- If a bike is left in the driveway, it gets put away for the rest of the afternoon.
- If children are fighting over a toy, the toy is put away for 10 minutes.
The advantage of related consequences is they get your child to think about the issue, they feel fairer, and they tend to work better than consequences that aren’t related. But it’s not always easy or possible to find a related consequence.
Other types of consequences: loss of privilege and time-out
Other types of consequences include loss of privilege and time-out. These consequences aren’t necessarily related to the difficult behaviour. But if you use them well, they give your child the opportunity to stop, think about his behaviour and learn from its consequences.
Loss of privilege is taking away a favourite object or activity for a while because of unacceptable behaviour. For example:
- A child who isn’t cooperating with her mum might lose the privilege of a lift to soccer training.
- A child who swears at his dad might lose screen time.
Time-out is when you ask your child go to a place – a corner, chair or room – that’s away from interesting activities and other people for a short period of time. You can use time-out for particularly difficult behaviour, or times when you and your child are both feeling very angry and you need to take a break from each other to calm down.
Negative consequences or punishments don't work by themselves. It’s best to guide your child towards better behaviour as well – for example, by using praise and rewards for doing the right thing. In families where parents yell, threaten or smack children, children often keep behaving in challenging ways. And this kind of punishment can have long-term negative effects on development.
How to use consequences effectively
One of the most important things about consequences is to use them as a response to your child’s behaviour, not to your child herself. This way your child will know that she’s loved and she’s safe – even when you’re using consequences.
It’s OK if your child doesn’t change his behaviour straight away. You might need to use consequences a few times before your child learns to behave differently.
Here are some other ways to make consequences more effective.
Make consequences clear and consistent
If children clearly understand what you expect them to do, and you regularly encourage them for doing it, they’re less ly to do things that require negative consequences. Having a clear set of family rules can make expectations clear for everyone.
Wherever possible, explain consequences ahead of time so they don’t come as a surprise. If you talk to your child about possible consequences, he’s less ly to be resentful and angry when you put consequences into action. This approach helps children feel heard and more open to your guidance.If you use consequences in the same way and for the same behaviour every time, your child knows what to expect. For example, you might always use a time-out for hitting.
It’s also important to apply negative consequences to all children in the family. Even very young children will be upset if they see other children not being treated in the same way as them.
Keep consequences short
The advantage of short consequences is that you quickly give your child an opportunity to try again and to behave in a way that you .
For example, if you turn off the television for 10 minutes because children are fighting over it, they quickly get another opportunity to solve the problem in a different way. If it’s turned off for the rest of the day, there are no more opportunities that day for them to learn to manage the situation differently.
And a long consequence can end up being worse for you than for your child – for example, a child deprived of her bike for a week is ly to get bored and cranky!
Get the timing right
It’s good to warn your child before you use a consequence. This gives him a chance to change his behaviour.
For example, ‘Guys, this yelling is just too loud for me! If you can’t work out what to watch on TV without screaming at each other, I will turn it off for 10 minutes’. Beware of not following through – this can send the message that you’re ‘all talk but no action’.
The exception to giving a warning before a consequence is where you have a well-established family rule. There might be important rules where a consequence immediately comes after your child breaks the rule.
When you do need to follow through with a consequence, it will work better if the consequence happens as soon as possible after the behaviour.
But it’s best not to impose a consequence immediately if you’re feeling very angry because you might overreact or be too harsh. Instead, say something ‘I’m feeling very angry at the moment. We’ll talk about this again in a couple of minutes when I’m feeling calmer’.
Adjust consequences to children’s needs and abilities
Reserve consequences for children over three years. Children younger than this don’t really understand consequences, particularly if they don’t understand the connection between their actions and the outcomes of those actions. Consequences just feel unfair to them.
It pays to implement consequences calmly and in a neutral tone. Try not to make it personal. So instead of talking about your child being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, talk about the rules and your child’s behaviour. Getting very angry or frustrated can make your child more ly to think about how cross you are – which can be entertaining, scary or exciting – than to learn from the situation.
Managing Problem Behavior at Home
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One of the biggest challenges parents face is managing difficult or defiant behavior on the part of children. Whether they’re refusing to put on their shoes, or throwing full-blown tantrums, you can find yourself at a loss for an effective way to respond.
For parents at their wits end, behavioral therapy techniques can provide a roadmap to calmer, more consistent ways to manage problem behaviors problems and offers a chance to help children develop gain the developmental skills they need to regulate their own behaviors.
Relate: How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior
ABC’s of behavior management at home
To understand and respond effectively to problematic behavior, you have to think about what came before it, as well as what comes after it. There are three important aspects to any given behavior:
- Antecedents: Preceding factors that make a behavior more or less ly to occur. Another, more familiar term for this is triggers. Learning and anticipating antecedents is an extremely helpful tool in preventing misbehavior.
- Behaviors: The specific actions you are trying to encourage or discourage.
- Consequences: The results that naturally or logically follow a behavior. Consequences — positive or negative — affect the lihood of a behavior recurring. And the more immediate the consequence, the more powerful it is.
The first step in a good behavior management plan is to identify target behaviors. These behaviors should be specific (so everyone is clear on what is expected), observable, and measurable (so everyone can agree whether or not the behavior happened).
An example of poorly defined behavior is “acting up,” or “being good.” A well-defined behavior would be running around the room (bad) or starting homework on time (good).
Antecedents, the good and the bad
Antecedents come in many forms. Some prop up bad behavior, others are helpful tools that help parents manage potentially problematic behaviors before they begin and bolster good behavior.
Antecedents to AVOID:
- Assuming expectations are understood: Don’t assume kids know what is expected of them — spell it out! Demands change from situation to situation and when children are unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, they’re more ly to misbehave.
- Calling things out from a distance: Be sure to tell children important instructions face-to-face. Things yelled from a distance are less ly to be remembered and understood.
- Transitioning without warning: Transitions can be hard for kids, especially in the middle of something they are enjoying. Having warning gives children the chance to find a good stopping place for an activity and makes the transition less fraught.
- Asking rapid-fire questions, or giving a series of instructions: Delivering a series of questions or instructions at children limits the lihood that they will hear, answer questions, remember the tasks, and do what they’ve been instructed to do.
Antecedents to EMBRACE:
Here are some antecedents that can bolster good behavior:
- Be aware of the situation: Consider and manage environmental and emotional factors — hunger, fatigue, anxiety or distractions can all make it much more difficult for children to rein in their behavior.
- Adjust the environment: When it’s homework time, for instance, remove distractions video screens and toys, provide a snacks, establish an organized place for kids to work and make sure to schedule some breaks — attention isn’t infinite.
- Make expectations clear: You’ll get better cooperation if both you and your child are clear on what’s expected. Sit down with him and present the information verbally. Even if he “should” know what is expected, clarifying expectations at the outset of a task helps head off misunderstandings down the line.
- Provide countdowns for transitions: Whenever possible, prepare children for an upcoming transition. Let them know when there are, say, 10 minutes remaining before they must come to dinner or start their homework. Then, remind them, when there are say, 2 minutes, left. Just as important as issuing the countdown is actually making the transition at the stated time.
- Let kids have a choice: As kids grow up, it’s important they have a say in their own scheduling. Giving a structured choice — “Do you want to take a shower after dinner or before?” — can help them feel empowered and encourage them to become more self-regulating.
Creating effective consequences
Not all consequences are created equal. Some are an excellent way to create structure and help kids understand the difference between acceptable behaviors and unacceptable behaviors while others have the potential to do more harm than good. As a parent having a strong understanding of how to intelligently and consistently use consequences can make all the difference.
Consequences to AVOID
- Giving negative attention: Children value attention from the important adults in their life so much that any attention — positive or negative — is better than none. Negative attention, such as raising your voice or spanking — actually increases bad behavior over time. Also, responding to behaviors with criticism or yelling adversely affects children’s self-esteem.
- Delayed consequences: The most effective consequences are immediate. Every moment that passes after a behavior, your child is less ly to link her behavior to the consequence. It becomes punishing for the sake of punishing, and it’s much less ly to actually change the behavior.
- Disproportionate consequences: Parents understandably get very frustrated. At times, they may be so frustrated that they overreact. A huge consequence can be demoralizing for children and they may give up even trying to behave.
- Positive consequences: When a child dawdles instead of putting on his shoes or picking up his blocks and, in frustration, you do it for him, you’re increasing the lihood that he will dawdle again next time.
Consequences that are more effective begin with generous attention to the behaviors you want to encourage.
- Positive attention for positive behaviors: Giving your child positive reinforcement for being good helps maintain the ongoing good behavior. Positive attention enhances the quality of the relationship, improves self-esteem, and feels good for everyone involved. Positive attention to brave behavior can also help attenuate anxiety, and help kids become more receptive to instructions and limit-setting.
- Ignoring actively: This should used ONLY with minor misbehaviors — NOT aggression and NOT very destructive behavior. Active ignoring involves the deliberate withdrawal of attention when a child starts to misbehave — as you ignore, you wait for positive behavior to resume. You want to give positive attention as soon as the desired behavior starts. By withholding your attention until you get positive behavior you are teaching your child what behavior gets you to engage.
- Reward menus: Rewards are a tangible way to give children positive feedback for desired behaviors. A reward is something a child earns, an acknowledgement that she’s doing something that’s difficult for her. Rewards are most effective as motivators when the child can choose from a variety of things: extra time on the iPad, a special treat, etc. This offers the child agency and reduces the possibility of a reward losing its appeal over time. Rewards should be linked to specific behaviors and always delivered consistently.
- Time outs: Time outs are one of the most effective consequences parents can use but also one of the hardest to do correctly. Here’s a quick guide to effective time out strategies.
- Be clear: Establish which behaviors will result in time outs. When a child exhibits that behavior, make sure the corresponding time out is relatively brief and immediately follows a negative behavior.
- Be consistent: Randomly administering time outs when you’re feeling frustrated undermines the system and makes it harder for the child to connect behaviors with consequences.
- Set rules and follow them: During a time out, there should be no talking to the child until you are ending the time out. Time out should end only once the child has been calm and quiet briefly so they learn to associate the end of time out with this desired behavior.
- Return to the task: If time out was issued for not complying with a task, once it ends the child should be instructed to complete the original task. This way, kids won’t begin to see time outs as an escape strategy.
By bringing practicing behavioral tools management at home, parents can make it a much more peaceful place to be.
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What You Can Do to Change Your Child’s Behavior
There are many things that can cause a child to have temper tantrums, emotional outbursts, and general “bad” or unexpected behavior. These can include biological reasons, being hungry or overtired. They can also include emotional reasons, not being able to cope with or describe their feelings. Their environment can also influence behavior.
Normal behavior in children depends on the child’s age, personality, and physical and emotional development. A child’s behavior may be a problem if it doesn’t match the expectations of the family or if it is disruptive.
Normal or “good” behavior is usually determined by whether it’s socially, culturally, and developmentally appropriate.
Knowing what to expect from your child at each age will help you decide whether his or her behavior is normal.
Children tend to continue a behavior when it is rewarded and stop a behavior when it is ignored. Consistency in your reaction to a behavior is important because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your child. When you think your child’s behavior might be a problem, you have 3 choices:
- Decide that the behavior is not a problem because it’s appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development.
- Attempt to stop the behavior, either by ignoring it or by punishing it.
- Introduce a new behavior that you prefer and reinforce it by rewarding your child.
The best way to stop unwanted behavior is to ignore it. This way works best over a period of time. When you want the behavior to stop immediately, you can use the time-out method.
How do I use the time-out method?
Decide ahead of time the behaviors that will result in a time out (usually tantrums, or aggressive or dangerous behavior). Choose a time-out place that is uninteresting for the child and not frightening, such as a chair, corner, or playpen. When you’re away from home, consider using a car or a nearby seating area as a time-out place.
When the unacceptable behavior occurs, tell the child the behavior is unacceptable and give a warning that you will put him or her in time-out if the behavior doesn’t stop. Remain calm and don’t look angry. If your child goes on misbehaving, calmly take him or her to the time-out area.
If possible, keep track of how long your child’s been in time out. Set a timer so your child will know when time out is over. Time out should be brief (generally 1 minute for each year of age) and should begin immediately after reaching the time-out place or after the child calms down.You should stay within sight or earshot of the child, but don’t talk to him or her. If the child leaves the time-out area, gently return him or her to the area and consider resetting the timer. When the time out is over, let the child leave the time-out place.
Don’t discuss the bad behavior but look for ways to reward and reinforce good behavior later on.
How do I encourage a new, desired behavior?
One way to encourage good behavior is to use a reward system. Children who learn that bad behavior is not tolerated and that good behavior is rewarded are learning skills that will last them a lifetime. This works best in children older than 2 years of age. It can take up to 2 months to work. Being patient and keeping a diary of behavior can be helpful to parents.
Choose 1 to 2 behaviors you would to change (for example, bedtime habits, tooth brushing, or picking up toys). Choose a reward your child would enjoy. Examples of good rewards are an extra bedtime story, delaying bedtime by half an hour, a preferred snack, or for older children, earning points toward a special toy, a privilege, or a small amount of money.
Explain the desired behavior and the reward to the child. For example, tell the child, “if you get into your pajamas and brush your teeth before this TV show is over, you can stay up a half hour later.” Request the behavior only one time. If the child does what you ask, give the reward.
You can help the child, if necessary, but don’t get too involved. Because any attention from parents, even negative attention, is so rewarding to children, they may prefer to have parental attention instead of a reward at first.
Transition statements, such as, “in 5 minutes, play time will be over,” are helpful when you are teaching your child new behaviors.
This system helps you avoid power struggles with your child. However, your child is not punished if he or she chooses not to behave as you ask. He or she simply does not get the reward.
Beat the Clock (good method for a dawdling child)
Ask the child to do a task. Set a timer. If the task is done before the timer rings, your child gets a reward. To decide the amount of time to give the child, figure out your child’s “best time” to do that task and add 5 minutes.
The Good Behavior Game (good for teaching a new behavior)
Write a short list of good behaviors on a chart and mark the chart with a star each time you see the good behavior. After your child has earned a small number of stars (depending on the child’s age), give him or her a reward.
Good Marks/Bad Marks (best method for difficult, highly active children)
In a short time (about an hour) put a mark on a chart or on your child’s hand each time you see him or her performing a good behavior.
For example, if you see your child playing quietly, solving a problem without fighting, picking up toys, or reading a book, you would mark the chart. After a certain number of marks, give your child a reward.
You can also make negative marks each time a bad behavior occurs. If you do this, only give your child a reward if there are more positive marks than negative marks.
Developing Quiet Time (often useful when you’re making supper)
Ask your child to play quietly alone or with a sibling for a short time (maybe 30 minutes).
Check on your child frequently (every 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the child’s age) and give a reward or a token for each few minutes they were quiet or playing well.
Gradually increase the intervals (go from checking your child’s behavior every 2 to 5 minutes to checking every 30 minutes) but continue to give rewards for each time period your child was quiet or played well.If your child has sensory issues (sometimes called sensory processing disorder or SPD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he or she may be unable to sit still. Children with SPD and ADHD also may have very limited self-control. This can make parenting more challenging. Children who have these disorders often do no respond to punishments or rewards.
Most often, parenting a child with ADHD and SPD requires you to deal with their emotions first and behavior second. There are many ways to help teach a child with ADHD or SPD to deal with their emotions.
These include breathing exercises, using an emotional levels chart, and using deep pressure as a way to calm them. Only after your child is calm can you begin to explain why his or her behavior was not appropriate or unexpected.
Over time, he or she may begin to learn self-regulation of emotions. This may help with behavior.
Make a short list of important rules and go over them with your child. Rules should relate to safety, health, and how to treat others. The fewer the rules, the less rule-breaking behavior you may have to deal with.
Avoid power struggles, no-win situations, and extremes. When you think you’ve overreacted, it’s better to use common sense to solve the problem, even if you have to be inconsistent with your reward or punishment method.
Avoid doing this often as it may confuse your child.
Accept your child’s basic personality, whether it’s shy, social, talkative, or active. Basic personality can be changed a little, but not very much. Try to avoid situations that can make your child cranky, such as becoming overly stimulated, tired, or bored.
Don’t criticize your child in front of other people. Describe your child’s behavior as bad, but don’t label your child as bad. Praise your child often when he or she deserves it. Touch him or her affectionately and often.
Children want and need attention from their parents.Develop little routines and rituals, especially at bedtimes and mealtimes. Provide transition remarks (such as “in 5 minutes, we’ll be eating dinner.”). Allow your child choices whenever possible.
For example, you can ask, “Do you want to wear your red pajamas or your blue pajamas to bed tonight?” “Do you want me to carry you to bed or do you want to go all by yourself?” “Which book do you want to read?”
As children get older, they may enjoy becoming involved in household rule making. Don’t debate the rules at the time of misbehavior, but invite your child to participate in rule making at another time.
Parents may choose to use physical punishment (such as spanking) to stop undesirable behavior. The biggest drawback to this method is that although the punishment stops the bad behavior for a while, it doesn’t teach your child to change his or her behavior.
Disciplining your child is really just teaching him or her to choose good behaviors. If your child doesn’t know a good behavior, he or she is ly to return to the bad behavior. Physical punishment becomes less effective with time and can cause the child to behave aggressively. It can also be carried too far into child abuse.
Other methods of punishment are preferred and should be used whenever possible.
- Does my child have a behavior disorder?
- Does my child have attention deficit disorder (ADD)?
- Does my child have an autism spectrum disorder?
- Could my child grow his or her bad behavior?
- What should I do if I’m afraid my child could physically hurt someone?
- What should I do if I’m afraid my child may hurt himself or herself?
- Would medicine help control my child’s behavior?