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Behavior Guidance for Your Child

Guiding children’s behavior is one of parents’ most important and challenging jobs. Toddlers and preschoolers often act in ways that are completely contrary to their needs. When they're exhausted, instead of falling asleep, they bounce off the walls or they lash out at everyone around them, when they need hugs and TLC the most. To understand your child’s behavior, you need patience and time. The following positive strategies will assist your child in learning appropriate ways of behaving.

‘Behavior guidance’ reflects the most positive and effective ways to help children gain understanding and learn skills that will help them to manage their own behavior. According to some child development experts, children usually misbehave for one of four basic reasons: attention, power, revenge or inadequacy.

1. Attention: When children believe they “belong” only when they are noticed, they feel important when they are commanding total attention. Parents can respond by giving positive attention at other times, ignoring inappropriate behavior, setting up routines, encouraging, or redirecting.

2. Power: When children believe they “belong” only when they are in control or are proving that no one can “boss them around.” Parents can respond with kind, but firm respect, giving limited choices, setting reasonable time limits, encouraging, and redirecting the child to a more acceptable activity. When children test their limits and use a public display to assert themselves, parents can continue to stick to the basic rules of letting them know their behavior is unacceptable (see language below). Leave the situation, if possible (store or home in which you are a guest). Talk when things are calmer at a later time.

3. Revenge: When children believe they “belong” only by hurting others, since they feel hurt themselves. Sometimes the reason for misbehavior is not clear. When there is a new pattern of acting out, children and parents should talk about how they are feeling. Parents can respond by avoiding harsh punishment and criticism, building trust, listening, reflecting on feelings, practicing sharing of feelings, encouraging strengths and acting with care.

4. Inadequacy: When children believe they “belong” only when they convince others not to expect anything of them since they are helpless or unable. Parents can respond by encouraging their children to try things, focusing on the child’s strengths, not criticizing or giving in, offering opportunities for success and teaching skills in small steps.

Cues and Responses: Without a Power Struggle

By: Colraine Pettipaw Hunley

  • Use “I” message rather than “You” message. Example: I feel frustrated when you... rather than “You make me angry when you…" The latter puts the responsibility for your emotions onto your child.

  • Offer Choices. Example: Offer children choices to help them learn that they can have control over situations. “Fred, you may ride the tricycle carefully without bumping into other children or you may choose another activity.” Giving choices also helps children to begin learning how to make their own decisions.

  • Give reminders and let them know what’s next. Example: “In 10 minutes, it is time to clean up and go to bed… In 7 minutes, we are going to clean up our mess and get a book for bed… In 5 mins, please choose your last favorite thing you want to before we clean up.” When it is time, “Times up, let’s clean up and go pick out our book to read for bed.”

  • Give examples of speech. Model speech that can be used in conflict situations for your child. Identify what conflicts there might be or where and how the children might/did feel about them. Then, help them to practice expressing their feelings. Example: encourage child to respond to aggression by saying “Don’t hit me. I don’t like it”.

  • Direct your comments to the child’s actions. Address your child’s actions rather than the child themselves so they know that it is their inappropriate behavior not them that you are rejecting. Be non-judgmental. Instead of saying “You’re a bad boy for hitting your friend” Try “You may not bite because that hurts your friend and I cannot let you hurt her or other children.”

  • Explain the logical consequences of the child’s behavior. For example, if you need them stop a dangerous or inappropriate behavior you can explain the consequences like “if you climb up on the window sill you might fall.” Now redirect that behavior, “if you want to climb you may climb on the climber.” Or simply, “this is not the time or place to climb, you may …“

  • Explain the rationale for a rule, a decision or expected behavior. Talk about the reasons for a particular rule. “You need to use your inside voice, please. It hurts my ears when you shout.” This way the child can understand the reason for certain behaviors.

  • Verbalize problem-solving techniques. Provide a model for your child to follow when they are in conflict situations by verbalizing problem-solving techniques and other ways the child can get what they want. “I know you want ice cream, but first you need to finish your dinner, then you get your dessert.” Or “I need you to eat 4 more bites of XYZ in order to get your dessert.” Once you say finish all of it, stick to it, so start small.

One of the most important and hardest aspects of parenting and correcting behavioral issues is FOLLOW THROUGH. If you tell your child they will lose something or only get something if they do XYZ, then you must not give in. We understand it is not always easy but when we give in we are teaching our child it is okay to behave that way because they are still going to get what they want so be present and follow through!

For information on how to keep your parent game strong 💪, see Parent Pointers, a series of helpful articles, tips, and ideas.

Raising a child takes a village and we’re proud to be part of the tribe!


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