Managing your child’s behavior is hands down one of the most difficult challenges of parenting. Who of us hasn’t been caught off guard by the grocery store tantrum or been called upon to mediate a neighborhood (or sibling) disagreement. Sometimes, our children will go through phases and stages that we’ll need to get a handle on, while other times the surprise us with a sudden behavioral issue. This article will explore a five-step process for gaining control and managing your child’s behavior.
1. Assess the Situation – The first step is to assess the situation and try to make a decision about what is going on. Consider your child’s motivation, the circumstance, who else is involved, etc. Is your child throwing a fit a the library because he is overtired and has just eaten two donuts at grandma’s house? By taking a quick snapshot of all the factors involved and contributing to a behavior issue, you’ll be informed and ready to move onto a solution.
2. Identify – Identify exactly what the behavior issue or situation you need to change and address. While step one helped you gain an understanding of the situation, the second step is to narrow in and identify exactly what needs to be changed. If safety is the number one issue, then you’ll need to act fast and solve the secondary concerns later. By identifying what needs to be addressed, you can focus your energy and problem-solving skills.
3. Prioritize – I can’t count how many times I’ve heard myself really get going when disciplining one of my children and bring in all sorts of infractions, instead of focusing on the major concern! Try to focus in on what your priorities are in the moment – don’t worry about what will happen if your child is still biting playmates when he’s thirty (likely he won’t be). Prioritize how big of an issue the behavior is (and whether it is your issue, your child’s, or the glaring people in line at the grocery store) and decide if the problem warrants a short-term answer or a long-term answer (or both). Keep in mind whether your child’s behavior is typical and/or age-appropriate behavior. Remember the old saying, “It’s just a phase?” It may be just a phase, in which case, you may not want to make a huge deal out of it.
4. Create Change – There are several ways to create change in a situation where you are addressing your child’s behavior. If he is acting out to get attention, experts suggest that you look for ways to give positive attention instead of reinforcing negative behavior by focusing on it. In some cases, boredom may be the culprit and you’ll want to redirect and provide something new for your child to focus on. If your child is overtired, over stimulated, or tends to act out in certain situations or certain times of day – then you may want to rearrange the schedule or avoid taking him into certain situations. My now teenage-son used to get goony at restaurants when he was a pre-schooler. It didn’t matter how much preparation I would do with him before hand, his behavior would be extremely challenging. I finally just had to call it quits until he was developmentally able to handle all the stimuli. As it turns out, my son wrestles with anxiety and worked with a therapist to help him develop his own coping skills when he reached adolescence. Crowds and contained situations make him nervous. While we have worked to learn how to manage the situations over the long term and he is now quite comfortable in restaurants, he wasn’t able to handle it as a preschooler.
You may need to create rules and guidelines for your child to rein in the behavior, and prepare in advance to try to minimize the issues.
5. Consequences – The final step is to follow-through with consequences. Consequences can be negative or positive, but should be consistent and enforced. When my children were little, they knew that if they couldn’t solve their own disagreements over toys and possessions and Mom had to intervene, the item in question would be put up for a week. It was a set consequence and while I would remind them when the item was being confiscated, they really knew the rule well enough to expect it and they weren’t too old before they started developing skills for mediating their own disagreements. If possible, consequences should be immediate (instead of “wait until your father gets home”) and connected to the issue at hand. Positive and negative “rewards” should happen in the moment and be directly tied to the situation.
The most important thing to remember in managing your child’s behavior is to be consistent. Children learn through repetition and it will be through your consistent follow-through that they learn to manage their own behavior and have a clear understanding of what is expected.