Author: Diane Dean, RN, LPC
Kids. You can’t help but love them. But their limit-testing remains just about as appealing as the sound of fingernails on a chalk board. To retain your parental sanity, follow these tips to keep your kids’ behavior in check.
Determine Their Needs
Children most often act out because they are working to get a need met, yet they are not always consciously aware of it, nor can they always communicate it, even if they are aware. For instance, a child may act up when he or she needs attention, or when he or she experiences a strong emotion, such as fear, but can’t articulate it. When a child’s behavior is off, work to understand what they might need at the moment. If you can’t determine what the need is yourself, simply ask your child: “Honey, what’s going on for you right now? What do you need from Mommy (or Daddy)?” Then work to help them meet their need.
Offer Clear Guidance and Structure
If the rules change, kids don’t have a consistent structure from which to operate. Set a family meeting, and enlist kids’ cooperation in making clear household rules. Make it clear that all members of the household must follow them (Including parents!), and post the rules in an open area, for ease of reference when behaviors need to be addressed. Spell out the specifics. For instance, “be respectful”, while a valid expectation, may be difficult for younger children to understand. Break it down: “No yelling”, “No hitting”, “No interrupting”, “Knock before entering”, and so forth. For very young children, using clipart illustrations or having them draw something that symbolizes the expectation will work better. Remember to engage the kids in the process. This way, they’ll have better buy-in to following the rules, since they helped to create them.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to over-explain their reasons for a request or a limit. While kids certainly deserve to understand basic reasoning behind requests and limits, this must be done with their developmental level and simplicity in mind. Over-explaining leaves too much room for kids to dispute, refute and rationalize. For instance, when you explain to Johnny that he must put his shoes on now because Granny is picking him up soon, he can argue that: a.) Granny won’t mind waiting, or b.) He doesn’t need shoes - Granny can carry him to the car. While this example is oversimplified, parents often offer a too-detailed explanation for their requests, leaving too much room for loop-hole poking. Like many things in life, simple is better. Offer a simple explanation only once.
Use Effective Warnings
While some violations warrant immediate consequences, some lighter infringements can best be managed with effective “If-then” warnings, so kids can make amends and correct their behavior. For instance, “Johnny, I asked you to put on your shoes and you haven’t. If you don’t put them on now, then you will not be able to finish your game before you leave with Granny.” It’s best to ensure that you have your child’s full attention before giving an “If-then” warning. This will help to avoid your warnings becoming background noise, and therefore, ineffective. You may want to ask your child to stop their current activity first (“Johnny, please pause the game for a minute.”), and stoop to their level, making eye contact as you use the “If-then” statement. Be certain that what follows the “then” is something you are willing to follow through with, and then do so after one simple “If-then” warning. Letting it slide will only make Johnny’s behavior worse in the long-run, and this will make him try harder next time to get you to give up and give in.
Although research does support that mild punishment remains slightly more effective than reinforcing positive behaviors, praise feels better. When you notice your child following the rules, be certain to note it verbally. Be certain that praise is specific. For instance, “Thank you Johnny, for putting on your shoes the first time I asked. I like that you followed the rules. Great job!” This will make it more likely for Johnny to do it again in like fashion next time.
Treat Underlying Physical Vulnerabilities
Sometimes kids misbehave because they are emotionally sensitive. Sometimes emotional sensitivity comes from untreated or undertreated physical vulnerabilities. For instance, fatigue can crank up whiney and defiant behavior. Hunger can do the same. Some children have underlying biological deficiencies that may be helped by changes in diet, or with medications or natural remedies. For instance, homeopathy has been found to effectively help kids focus. Gotu kola has been found to stimulate mental functioning without inducing hyperactivity. Argent. nit., a homeopathic remedy, has been known to help quell anxiety, worry and nerves.
Regardless of reason, kids will indeed be kids. Using these strategies will help you reign in problem behaviors that frustrate parents, and allow you to love them like they’re meant to be loved!