Ways of helping children to manage their behaviour

Being a parent is one of the most important jobs we can do, but it can also be one of the most difficult and we have all had times when we are frustrated, confused and stressed by our child’s behaviour. You’re not alone!!

All young children show some sort of challenging behaviour at times, not because they are deliberately being challenging or bold, but because they don’t know any other way to express themselves or they don’t yet know what is expected of them in certain situations.

With your support and encouragement, your child will learn the skills they need to manage their own emotions and behaviour.

Behaviours are our actions and responses to feelings, emotions and needs. All behaviour has meaning and is closely connected to how we feel and what we think. If you are feeling happy, you may smile; if you are feeling hungry you may become irritable. Feelings themselves are neither ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it is how we express these feelings that is important and this can sometimes difficult for children who are figuring out all these big emotions and how the world works.

When children are seen as having nice manners, are able to share with others and do as they are told, we think of them as being ‘well behaved’. When children have temper tantrums, shout and stamp their feet, hit out at others or throw things, we think of them as ‘bold’ or ‘badly behaved’.

There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ child but there are behaviours that are not good. As with adults, a child’s behaviour is an outward expression of the emotion they are feeling at the time and their behaviour, therefore, has meaning.

It is important to remember that certain behaviour is a natural and important part of a child developing and learning about the world. Sometimes your child’s behaviour may be very frustrating and require a lot of patience on your part, but when you are aware of the reasons behind the behaviour, it can make it easier for you to respond to it.

Many challenging behaviours shown by children are age appropriate so it is important that your expectations of your child matches what they are capable of at their age i.e. If a two-year-old gets upset when asked to share toys, they arek not deliberately being unkind, they are just too young to have developed the skills to be able to share yet.

Children who are getting ready to start school are constantly learning and exploring the world, they have lots of questions as they start to form their own views. As they move towards becoming more independent, they may seem to push boundaries and become more challenging because they are ready for that next stage in their lives.

Ways to help your child manage their behaviour
Develop rules and routines
An effective way of ensuring your child understands what is expected of them is to have clear boundaries and expectations and a predictable routine in place. In order for these to work they need to be consistent. A routine establishes for the child what is happening now and what will happen next. These should be predictable and consistent. For example, if going to bed follows the same order of events every night, your child will quickly learn that at bedtime they put on their pyjamas, brush their teeth, read a story and go to sleep.

Limits and boundaries
Setting clear limits and boundaries lets your child know what is expected of them. Any rules that you have should focus on keeping your child safe. It is important to explain why certain behaviour is not okay. Children respond better to being told what they can do rather than what they can’t. For example, ‘If you want to play with a new toy you will need to tidy up these ones first. If you leave these all over the floor someone might hurt themselves.’

Acknowledge positive behaviour and ignore negative behaviour (pick your battles)
It is not necessary to respond to all behaviour. Sometimes it is better to ignore negative behaviour.
The use of positive praise for the smallest of ‘good’ behaviour can be very effective will make the behaviour more likely to happen again in the future. This gives your child positive attention for positive behaviour. It takes a conscious effort to actively notice when your child is behaving well. Encourage the behaviour as it is happening, for example, ‘I really like the way you are sharing your toys with your sister.’

Be consistent and keep to your word
Ensure that everyone who is involved with your child deals with behaviour in the same way, speak to relatives about how you expect behaviour to be dealt with and don’t use empty threats as children will remember that they were told they were not going to be doing something but then they were allowed.

Remove your child from the situation
There may be times when your child is struggling with a situation. They may be too upset or their behaviour has become too disruptive for them to be able to listen to what you are saying. If you can see your child is becoming overwhelmed and very upset, suggest taking a break and sitting quietly together. Sitting quietly together is useful as it allows your child some space and time to calm down. Once they have relaxed a bit, you can then explore their feelings and ways to resolve the problem.

Most importantly try to have time each day to play with your child and to have fun together. This will make your child feel more secure and should mean that they are less likely to seek your attention through their negative behaviour.

A child who experiences the people around them interacting well, remaining calm under stress and managing their emotions will try to do the same. However a child who is surrounded by people who act negatively or shout when they are angry will learn that this is what people do and will do the same.

“What we are teaches the child far more than what we say…….. So we must be what we want our children to become”

Joseph Chilton Pearcer

If you need to speak about your child’s behaviour please speak to your child’s key person who will be happy to offer advice…. Your child’s health visitor can also offer support and advice if needed.


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