Many parents struggle with what they consider to be bad behavior from their children. Demands from work and relationships can lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed. The last thing an over-stressed parent has patience for is children who misbehave. The following is a guide to behavioral management to use at home to gain control over what feels to be an out of control environment. Children often push boundaries. Therefore, changing behavior requires patience. At first, children will resist the boundaries and rules; they may even behave worse than before. Stick to the plan with patience and diligence, and in time behavior will improve substantially. Offer children choices so that they feel as if they have some control in their lives. Children are often told no, don’t do that, or do this. They don’t have as much power as an adult; this can be frustrating at times. Treat your child with respect, like you would any other human being in an age appropriate manner.
Some sound advice on behavioral management for children
1. There are no bad children, only behavior that can improve
Often children with behavioral problems suffer from anxiety or are gifted; they find themselves easily bored. When children are anxious, they can become easily overstimulated. Turn down the noise and the activities within the room. Create a safe environment by providing predictability.
2. Action and consequence
Develop house rules where everyone in the household is expected to follow. Try to phrase the house rule positively. Always let the child know exactly what is expected of them and what the consequence will be if the rule is broken.
For example, house rule number 1: “Hands and feet are for playing and not hitting or kicking.” It is important that everyone in the household follows the rules and enforces the consequences. This means that parents are also not allowed to hit or kick the children.
Children learn from watching adults. Children think, “if mom and dad hit me when I am angry, then I can hit others when I am angry.” Condition children through positive reinforcement. Always reward the positive behavior by acknowledging it, ignore behavior that you believe is just to get attention – like temper tantrums.
Use negative reinforcement if they misbehave. For example, if you throw your toys, I take the toys away. Do not raise your voice to shout at children. Lower your voice so that they have to calm down to hear what you are saying. You can say the following, “I know that you are angry, but I can’t understand you when you are kicking and shouting. When you are ready, we can talk about what you want.”
3. Maintain eye-contact
Children are easily distracted by sound and other things in the environment. When you want their attention, ask them if you can see their eyes. Say, “Can I see your eyes please?” If they are still running around and not listening to you, walk over to them and place your eyes at the same level as theirs; this may require you squat or kneel down. Maintaining eye-contact lets the parent know that the child is listening, and allows the child to know that they are being seen. Kneeling down to be at the child’s height also allows the child to pay attention and contains a level of respect between the child and the parent.
4. Modeling behavior and emotions
Children model the behavior of their parents. If a parent reacts to anger by punching the wall or throwing objects, so will the child. If you are too angry to deal with your child, walk away until you have calmed down. When you are ready, model emotions by talking about how you feel.
Example, “I am feeling angry right now because the internet isn’t working and I need to finish my work.” Then the child watches you take deep breaths as you try to calm down without shouting or throwing things. Children are kinesthetic and connected to their parents. If a parent is anxious, the child becomes anxious. This is also known as “mood contagion.”
5. Create predictability
Let your child know what is planned for them that day. Children are under their parental control and often do not have a choice in what happens within a day. Let them know the schedule ahead of time. If your child is playing, tell them we need to clean up in ten minutes. If you are in a rush, tell them they have one more minute to play and then they need to go. This way the child mentally prepares for what is to happen next.
6. Let your children play
Children relieve stress and anxiety through play, as well as learn how to create, negotiate and problem solve. Play is also a great way to connect with your child. When playing with your child, let them direct the play. If they want to play with legos, you follow. Out of respect, ask them if you can play with their toys as well.
7. Manage your stress
It is hard to feel patient when you are overwhelmed with your stress. Allow yourself some alone time to exercise, read or do an activity that you enjoy, daily if possible. Respect your needs and request that others do so as well. Express gratitude and appreciation daily. This trains your brain to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
Dr Monica Borschel is a US trained Clinical Psychologist who specialises in loss and attachment. Get in touch with Dr. Borschel: firstname.lastname@example.org