Spotlight Series #1 – Insight Into Children’s Behavior

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“NO!” “Do not do that!”  “Stop!” As a parent, you may find yourself using these and related utterances more often than you’d like. When you take your child to a friend’s house, the parents compliment you on how polite and well-behaved he/she is. You silently wonder if they’re referring to your child, because he or she behaves quite differently at home. When your child is at home, he or she does not pay attention, misbehaves, and constantly backchats (that is when they look up from their devices). You’re not sure where they picked up this attitude or where this behaviour is coming from. At times, it causes you to question yourself and to wonder if you should have managed anything differently.  The behaviour of children can be upsetting and difficult to handle.

Getting Context

Asking the right questions

According to the website for the #MyFamilyMonsters project, it is natural for parents to become frustrated, authoritarian, or confrontational in response to challenging behavior. Parents may also feel helpless or uncertain about the ideal behavior management approach, according to a Family Lives article. Despite the fact that my academic and therapeutic background may impact my opinion, I am convinced that no decisions can be made without first understanding the context of the situation (this relates to the well-known expression “there is a reason for everything”). As a result, before determining how to manage your child’s behavior, reflect on some of the aspects that could be contributing to the attitude changes or behavior spikes:

  • Is my child’s behaviour related to his or her development?
  • Is my child receiving enough quality sleep?
  • Has my family’s situation changed in any way that could affect my child’s behaviour? (children frequently have difficulty adjusting to the birth of a new baby, the transition to school, a death in the family, or related crisis’s)
  • Am I going through a difficult time? (children typically react to changes in your well-being)
  • Is my child expecting a specific response from me? (if you gave your child candy to keep them calm at the store, they may demand candy every time you go there)
  • Does my child have the ability to regulate emotions and manage behaviour?
  • Is my child longing for connection or quality time with me?

These questions are not intended to be a comprehensive reference list of possible causes of behaviour but may prompt some considerations of possible reasons behind your child’s behaviour. However, if you are seriously concerned, you should seek the advice of a mental health expert for a complete assessment to gain insight on the background and origins of the behaviour.

When is the next step?

The Spotlight Series is a monthly blog series that provides practical advice and insights about children’s behaviour. Themes linked to (1) the marvel of positive parenting; (2) replace problem behaviour with conversation, (3) dealing with tantrums, (4) when is therapy needed and (5) temperaments within your family, will be covered throughout the next five months. The knowledge you gain from these blog postings will enable you to create your own behaviour management approach that is tailored to your child’s specific needs.

Try it out at home

Challenging behaviour can generate stress not just for you and your child, but also for the rest of the family. Every month, I’ll share some easy-to-implement ideas that you can use at home. The recommendations from this month will serve as a foundation upon which you can build your own unique approach as we progress through this series.

Tip #1: Define the boundaries clearly.

Firstly, be aware and clear of why you have chosen a boundary or rule. Explaining the reason for the boundary can help support positive behaviour. It’s important to make sure your child understands how they are expected to behave; the younger the child, the more precise the wording of the boundary has to be. It can be beneficial to write them down and keep them somewhere prominent. (Take note that it is natural for children to push the boundaries or break rules, this is how they learn and test your role as their safe-keeper.)

Practical example of boundaries: We do not hurt ourselves or other people; we do not run into the road; we don’t eat sweets before bedtime; we finish homework before spending time on our devices.

Tip #2: Allow for Natural Consequences

As parents, we often want to protect our children against everything. However, children must be allowed to experience consequences of their behaviour. These consequences must be realistic, correspond to the nature of the infraction or be natural consequences. If at all possible, the consequence should teach them something.

Practical example of consequences: If you take something that is not yours, you should show remorse, confess and apologize to the people involved, and return the item. A consequence of this action could be to talk about what it might be like to have something taken from you or do something kind for someone you have wronged.

Tip #3: Parental Consensus

If there are two parents involved, it is ideal that both parents agree on the boundaries, the consequences, and the methods for carrying out these consequences. Children are smart and will try to create factions between parents. Each parent should verify with the other parent before actioning something new.

Practical example of consensus: You could say to your child, “I would like to chat to your mom about this first before we make a decision.” This shows healthy cooperation and unity in the parenting system.

Tip #4: Maintain Consistency

Both the consistency of the boundaries and the consistency with which the consequences are carried out, are key. This may sound obvious, yet it’s all too easy to find yourself bending rules you’ve created. Children are prone to looking for loopholes, and to test boundaries. Consistency is most necessary and successful during these times.

Practical example of consistency: If TV time is only 1 hour during the week, then every day, without exception this should be the rule (irrelevant of the amount of homework, or the child or parent’s feelings on the specific day). Consequences for breaking this boundary is less time for the other favourite activities like riding bike, reading books or spending time on devices.

Tip #5: Be a role model.

As always, the most powerful guide and teacher for your child is who you are and how you act. When your child does something unpleasant repeatedly, your frustration and anger might build up, making it difficult to remain calm. Your child will pick up on your behaviour and copy them, thus you are key to the approach you develop.

The Bottom Line

For a variety of reasons, children behave in various ways. It’s natural for parents who are juggling multiple responsibilities to feel overwhelmed. The good news is that there are approaches to better manage the behaviour, and this series will assist you in developing such an approach. There are plenty of behaviour management methods and strategies available, you could try some and be dissatisfied, or try others and find one which is perfect.  For the best outcomes, I suggest that you develop your own approach that is appropriate for your child’s age, developmental stage, and your family circumstances.

Find a building block for your own approach in next month’s post in this series, which will cover the marvels of positive parenting.

If you’re having difficulty developing your approach, our team at MOT will be happy to assist you with this. Alternatively, consult a mental health professional or your primary care physician. 

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