Coping with bad behaviour

Time Out talks to parenting experts on how to deal with bad behaviour

It’s amazing that most children don’t grow up thinking their names are ‘Don’t Touch That’ or ‘Don’t Run Off’. As parents we feel we are constantly giving negative vibes to our kids in an attempt to make them understand what is right and wrong and sometimes just to keep them safe.

As adults, potential dangers and accidents run through our heads at 100 miles an hour. Add that to a constant battle to prevent a frustrated outburst turning into a bigger behavioural problem, and we can probably be forgiven for constantly saying no.

Kids hit, sulk, run off and generally don’t listen, but why is that and what can we do about it?

Carmen Benton, Parent Educator at LifeWorks Counselling and Development, has a simple answer. ‘Children act like this because they are children,’ she says.

‘It is part of their human nature to explore and investigate the world around them. They are learning from all five senses, so touching something in a shop, repeating any words they hear, or going over to explore something they have seen is them acting first and foremost to the overwhelming desire they have inside them to learn and explore. Even though we believe we have ‘told’ them not to, this desire to explore through the senses in young children is far more powerful than our ‘no’ almost every time.’

What’s mine is mine
Sharing anything is a great sticking point in many households, and finding a happy equilibrium in the toy box area is a major achievement.

Dr Shola Faniran, specialist paediatrician and developmental paediatrician at Dubai London Clinic says, ‘Children have difficulty sharing toys. They are generally very self-centered and view themselves as the centre of the world. Behaviour management starts at home. It must be consistent and parents and care givers should always follow through with consequences. It helps the child understand and remember what is expected of him at all times.’

Dawn from Garden Views, has twin girls aged three and a two-year-old boy. ‘With three children it is very important to make sure each one is made to feel like they are being treated equally,’ she said. ‘When it comes to playing with one of the larger toys such as the car or the trampoline and only one can play at a time, I let the first child have a minute or two then count down from 10, they come off and it is the next child’s turn and so on. It’s really helping the children learn about sharing and making sure they all have a fair go.’

Should I intervene?
Hitting is a problematic, but very common occurrence between children and usually occurs as a result of frustration that they can’t verbalise that can make them lash out.

‘Hitting is never acceptable behaviour, either in children or in adults,’ says Dr Shola.

‘The home is also the environment to model behaviour to children,’ she adds. ‘If we are quick to smack our children in frustration or anger, or siblings hit each other, the younger child learns to use this as an outlet for their anger or frustration too. Show your children empathy and verbalise the feelings for them. Be a good role model for empathy.’

It’s like talking to a brick wall
So it’s as much about how we say it as what we say. But what should we be doing when our children don’t seem to hear us? Sometimes children seem to clearly hear someone shout ‘who wants ice cream’, but when it comes to ‘Please put your toys away’, the words don’t even register. Is selective hearing something to worry about?

Dr Shola says you should first make sure there is nothing more serious behind the hearing issue. ‘Observe and note when behaviour occurs,’ she says. ‘Is it all the time or only when it’s a particular activity your child does not want to do? You need to make sure ‘selective hearing’ is not part of another developmental problem, so see your paediatrician. Assuming that is ok, give short simple instructions, choose your battles, reward obedience, give consequences for disobedience and offer simple choices.’

As our children grow, so do their behaviour traits and over the years they will drop some habits, just to form new ones. But over all, this advice can be tailored to cover most things our kids throw at us.
Carmen says the keywords are distract and redirect. ‘We can often act without using any words at all,’ she says.

‘This prevents us from using the word ‘no’ too often. Remember that we teach our children how to speak through the way we speak to them. If we shout and threaten them, they will learn how to shout and threaten by our own example. But if we encourage our children to do the right thing, they learn they are capable and accepted.’

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