Written by: Cally Worden
My head regularly spins when I’m faced with a challenging child. What is the best to deal with bad behaviour in any given moment? There really is no simple answer. But there are things we can all do as parents both before and during these testing time to help ease the pain. Keep a few of these helpful tips in your armoury for when the kids starting acting out.
Keep Your Reactions Muted
When your kids are behaving badly it’s natural to react, usually with frustration, anger, or (my own personal favourite) exasperation. Children can be SO infuriating. This may not be the type of attention your kids are needing, but it does direct your focus their way, so in a sense their bad behaviour is delivering a result for them. With that in mind, they will keep on repeating it. When the wee ones are niggling and bickering, or trying their utmost to inadvertently wind you up with mindless child button-pushing, try instead to ignore it. It may take a little while the first few times, but eventually they will give up when they see that their efforts are not to be rewarded. Earplugs may be essential parent-gear for this exercise.
That old adage about negativity breeding negativity is kind of true. If you expect bad behaviours then you’re almost inviting them, your hyper-awareness sets the atmosphere on edge. Conversely, taking a positive attitude can deliver positivity, which is far more fun. When your kids are on a downer about something, perhaps giving up on stuff – ‘I can’t build the den properly!’ – try boosting them with compliments, and give them something to feel good about. It may surprise you to find that your persistence with this attitude inspires your child to live up to the good, instead of delivering the bad that you were fearing.
Lead by Example
It is so easy as a parent to fall into nag mode. I know I’m guilty of this, especially when I feel like household stuff is running away from me. This usually occurs after I’ve just tripped on yet another toy car strategically placed in the middle of the kitchen floor to elicit a comedy fall by Mummy. The nag-switch gets thrown and I spend the day on their case. Kids love to reflect the world around them, and so what often follows is a period of extended whining in my direction. Try instead to use calm factual statements – ‘We’d have far more space to play if we tidied these toys. Let’s work together’. Doesn’t sound like it should work, but I tried this yesterday evening with my two, and before I knew it they were on hands and knees scooping Lego into tubs. I was so shocked I was tempted to take a photo to record the moment.
Validate your Kids’ Feelings
When kids behave badly it’s often simply their way of expelling an emotion they are struggling to deal with. Although bad behaviours need to be addressed in whatever way is appropriate – ‘You hit your sister, you need to go in time out and think about why that’s not acceptable’ – it’s also important to acknowledge the feelings that prompted the incident – ‘I can see that you are mad at your sister because she broke your toy, you have a right to be angry’. Clearly these types of messages need to be modified according to the age of your child, but validating their feelings in this way makes them feel valued, and less likely to act out next time around, or sulk about the consequences. It really does work.
Consistency is Key
Kids have enough to deal with on their own, without having the stress of wondering how Mum or Dad is going to respond. If hitting is unacceptable today, it must be unacceptable tomorrow too, and every day after that. And if your child talks back at your disrespectfully this needs to be addressed the first, second, and all subsequent times with similar degrees of firmness and consequence. If your reactions fluctuate wildly from day to day you simply cannot expect your kids to know where the boundaries of acceptability lie.
It’s Okay to Drop the Ball
None of us are perfect, so don’t feel too gutted with yourself if you flip your lid and overreact occasionally. If you are normally consistent this will simply be a clear signal to your kids that they have WAY over-stepped the mark, and they’ll probably just want to give you a hug. This happened with me the other day when my two ran riot in a shop after promising faithfully to be good. Back in the car, pumped with PMT hormones and suffering from only 3 hours sleep the previous night, I lost it a bit. Okay, a lot. I had a rant at them. Loudly. They looked sheepish and then, little bottom lips wobbling, clambered onto my knee for a spontaneous group hug and a big Sorry. I felt bad, but okay. Because in the end we’re all human, yes, even us grown-ups. Thank goodness.
Finally – Take Time Out
Spending quality time together with your kids is one of the best ways I have personally found to help improve their behaviour. Taking just 10-15 minutes each day to forget the chores and actively play with one or both kids and really be in that moment works wonders. For them, and for me. Try it, and let us know how you get on. If nothing else it means you get to put off the ironing for a little while!