Encouraging good behaviour in young children.
Young children aren’t born knowing how to be well behaved. They need help and guidance from parents and other carers – and as all parents know this isn’t always an easy job.
Know what is ‘normal’ behaviour for what age
Opening kitchen cupboards and dragging every saucepan on to the kitchen floor isn’t naughty for a two year old child, for instance – it just means he or she wants to find out more about her surroundings. It’s also very common for four-year-olds to fight with their younger brothers and sisters. Talking to other parents with children of the same age is one way of finding out what is normal at what age – many parents are often relieved to learn that other children are behaving in much the same way.
Teach by example
One way children learn is by imitating others. This is why parents need to behave in ways which set good examples. It’s important that we, as parents, show respect for children – children who are shown respect themselves will show respect to others. Although children need to know they are unique individuals, they also need to know they are part of a group too. This is why we need to teach them to share, to listen to others and to take turns.
Think about what you say and how you say it
Use the same tone of voice with children as you want people to use with you. Talk respectfully to them and about them, rather than saying things like, “Ann is always so naughty”, or, “Joseph is always so lazy.” It’s very tempting to criticize children in the hope that constantly pointing out bad behaviour will make them stop doing it. But this often has the opposite effect. Children soon learn that they get attention by doing things parents don’t like.
A better way to encourage good behaviour is to remember to praise them as often as possible, even in small ways, such as, “Ann was very helpful today – she put away all her toys”. This doesn’t mean never reprimanding them for doing something wrong. But it’s important to criticize the child’s behaviour rather than the child as a person. Instead of saying, “You are very naughty”, say something like, “I don’t like what you’re doing”, or, “We don’t allow that behaviour”.
Let children know what behaviour is allowed and what isn’t. Giving children clear limits makes them feel secure. Be consistent about what is and what isn’t acceptable.
Accept a child’s right to say, “No”, sometimes – especially about things that affect only the child – such as which clothes he/she wants to wear. Remember that children need to learn that saying, “No”, is sometimes a good thing. Saying, “No”, to strangers, for instance, may be the safest thing to do.
Praise and hug children when they co-operate, as this encourages them to behave well.
Don’t expect more from children than they are capable of doing.
Although a five year old can be expected to sit still in a doctor’s waiting room, you can’t expect a two year old to do the same. Be tolerant and keep the child’s age in mind.
Avoid smacking children as it only teaches children that violence is the best way of maintain control and it encourages them to hit other children.
Babies – the key is prevention!
Babies are ‘into everything’ because they learn by exploring.
They are often smacked for touching things that are dangerous or breakable, but nothing you can do will teach a baby to leave particular things alone because they won’t understand. Put valuables out of reach and there will be nothing to quarrel about.
• Babyproof your home! Install fireguards, dummy electric plugs, stair gates and cupboard catches.
• If your baby’s hand is in danger, grab it and say ‘No” – it’s quicker than a smack.
• If the baby is holding something breakable- offer a swap and they will let go.
• If they’re clinging around your ankles, a smack will make them worse -get down and give your baby some attention.
If you feel your temper going, put your baby in a safe place like a cot while you leave the room and get yourself together.
Toddlers – the key is steering
When toddlers develop minds and wills of their own! – this is a sign of them getting out of babyhood, not a sign of them ‘getting out of hand’! Toddlers are mostly smacked for not doing as they’re told and making scenes when they can’t do as they want. But it’s only around two that they even begin to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes so as to be ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ on purpose. So punishments don’t help learning – they just spoil the atmosphere for both of you, Order a toddler to bed and they’ll probably refuse! – saying let’s go up for your story now’ is better.
If they keep doing something annoying, show them something different to do. If they won’t come out of the bath or home from the park, don’t yell until you’re furious and bound to smack. Ask, tell, tell again and then lift them.
Avoid battles you can’t win -you can’t force food into a toddler, or wee or co-operation out. Instead try saying, ‘Had enough? Down you get then’ or ‘no wee right now? OK maybe later then’ or ‘Let’s see if you can pick these toys up as fast as me’.
“ If you can’t divert a tantrum, there’s nothing you can do until it blows over. At home, turn away and do something else – sing to yourself to blot out your desire to scream too! In public, carry your toddler to a more private place like the toilets or car park until their screams become sobs and you can have a cuddle.
If your hand is raised in a smack, divert it to hit the table or your own knee. The sound will get a toddler’s attention and they’ll hear what you say because they won’t be crying.
Pre-school children – the keys are showing and telling
No one likes being ignored, so your pre-schooler will misbehave to get attention if that is the only way they can get it. Remember therefore, to pay your child more attention when they are behaving well than when they are behaving badly. “When your child tries to be good it’s because they want someone to be pleased. The easier you are to please, the more often they’ll try. Expect some showing off and silliness, rude rhymes and noisy boisterous behaviour. This is an age for experimenting with words and physical actions, for copying other children.
They won’t understand why ‘f* * *’ shocks you and ‘fiddle’ does not. Tell them, but keep it cool, they’ll find it funny to be shocking. Make sure they get some active play – a romp on your bed may help on a wet day.
Introduce important values like truth, honesty and unselfishness – tell them you need to know whether they’re really ill so you can look after them; that the playgroup would have no books if everyone took them home; that it’s fairest to take turns.
A joke can end silliness and irritation in laughter rather than tears. It’s also easier to ignore silliness if you’ve got something else to do – try the radio or phoning a Mend. If things get out of hand, vent your feelings by clapping instead of smacking, or saying, ‘if you don’t stop, I’ll scream’ – and then doing so!
The keys for children from age five onwards are positive example, mutual respect – and lots of talk.