3 ways to better manage behaviour
Obviously we’re always watching children but simply watching is very different to keenly observing with an objective in mind. If you’re notice a pattern of negative behaviour make a special effort to observe and find the triggers. Sometimes the incidents seem random but there may be a bigger pattern behind it – common causes are unexpected tiredness, over-stimulation, teeth coming through. Sometimes it’s linked to something that we’re doing, albeit unintentionally. A child who doesn’t know what is expected of them will lash out when confused. This is particularly noticeable when children are growing in independence and learning new skills, but at the same time the mistakes they make are behaviours we don’t want to encourage. It’s difficult to learn to drink from an open cup without spilling once or twice.
It may seem counter-intuitive to stand back once in a while and let bad behaviour happen but it may give you valuable clues to what sparked it off, particularly if you can’t find another cause. This is different to letting children tantrum it out because you’ve once again thwarted their master plan, and is obviously not to be tried when a child is physically hurting you or someone else, but to go back to the drink spilling example if a child is constantly knocking over their cup it might be that they’re trying to pick it up to drink by themselves rather than being ‘naughty’.
We all know to praise children when they’re doing well, and that praise should be as specific as possible rather than a generic ‘good boy/girl’ or ‘well done’ but it’s easy to forget. It’s also easy to slip into the trap of only praising when there’s exceptionally good behaviour rather than reinforcing everyday positives. Be genuine when reinforcing good behaviour – use a positive tone of voice and get down to their level.
If you choose to use rewards as reinforcements then link the behaviour to the reward. ‘You tidied up so quickly that we can play <insert favourite game>’ will encourage a child to tidy up quickly in the future. Be consistent with rewards until the behaviour is well ingrained and then reduce the frequency while increasing the stakes to moderate the expectation.
If you find yourself constantly telling your child ‘don’t run’, ‘stop hitting’, ‘no throwing balls inside’ then think about how you’re conveying the message. ‘Please walk’, ‘keep your hands to yourself’, ‘you can roll the ball inside’ or ‘we throw balls outside’ are much clearer and give the child a clear steer on what they should be doing. Children’s understanding of different types of negation continues to develop long after they learn the word ‘no’, which is often among the first words to appear (here’s a very interesting research paper if you want to find out more).