After years of working with families and children in the mental health field, I have come to have an arsenal of tips that I offer out to parents that are having a difficult time with their little one. I have observed how effective each of these tips can be in modifying a child’s behavior, so here they are! All parents struggle at times and the struggle is completely normal. Implement these techniques and let me know the changes that you observe!
1. Be consistent. No means no and yes means yes. Don’t forgo a rule because you’re tired and you don’t feel like reinforcing it. You will pay for it later as your child gets older and starts to test the boundaries that you have attempted to put in place. If they know what you expect from them, life is easier and more concrete. A great overview of many different parenting skills, but especially the importance of consistency:
2. Create structure and routine in your home. Especially for kids that are in school but really you can start this as early as you want. When kids know what you expect of them, they do better and similarly, kids thrive when they know what to expect at home and from you. Kids thrive when there is routine in place i.e. going to bed at the same time, taking a bath at a certain time each evening, eating dinner together (NOT in front of the t.v., please!). Routine alleviates anxiety about the unknown. We as adults certainly know this-how would we make it to work and be productive if our lives were all over the place?! Fantastic article that compliments the need and importance of structure for kids:
3. Have a “cool-down” spot in the house and DO NOT make this place your child’s bed. Many a parent has told me that they send their child to go sit on his or her bed when they misbehave and this is a big no-no! We want children to associate their bed with sleeping and peacefulness, not punishment! Some other parenting coaches may not agree with me, but I feel very strongly about this concept. Especially if you have a child that is already a tough one to get to go to bed, imagine them having to go lay down in their “time-out/punishment” spot! No Bueno! Instead, get a completely simple little chair and place it in a neutral spot in your home-one where there are no toys and no t.v. You never want to make your child stay in time out for longer than their age; kind of an old-school rule of thumb that I completely agree with. Two minutes can feel like an eternity for a 2 year old, not sure if they could handle any longer! The follow up to the cool down period is when you go to your child and talk to them about what happened. Make this a positive time for learning and bonding with your child! After the conversation, give them a hug, tell them you love them, really any form of encouragement to your child at this point after a successful cool down period is beneficial to your little sweetie’s mental health!
4. Teach children to control their emotions. If your child is having an outburst or temper tantrum, your best bet is to let them learn how to control their own emotions. I script this out for parents all the time. Say to your child in a calm, low voice, “When you are able to talk quietly, I’m here to listen”. Go back to the task that you are doing and using your best judgment, after a few minutes if they are still having a fit, say it again-“When you are able to talk quietly, I’m here to listen”. Short, sweet, and matter of fact.
5. Practice brevity of speech with your kids. Get to the point! After a certain amount of talking, whatever you’re trying to get across just gets lost on your child. Say Johnny wants a cookie before dinner and you want him to wait. All that you have to say is, “Honey, I want you to wait until after dinner because I made this meal especially for you and I think you will really like it”. Period. No need to go into a super long explanation about how it’s too much sugar, it will ruin his appetite, it’s not nutritious, etc. Just stick to the facts and let it lie. If he begins to tantrum, you can refer back to tip 4.
6. Give choices to your child. Part of the developmental milestone is for children to practice independence and autonomy. Let’s face it, children learn early that it’s fun to be in control. Our job as adults is to dole this control out in a way where ultimately, we are still the ones that are in total control but the child gets to use his own judgment. For example, let’s say Rebecca wants to sleep with 6 dolls in her bed each night. You know that there is really only room for 1. So you pick up her two favorite dolls and say, “Rebecca, which doll do you want to pick out to have a sleepover with tonite?!” Act excited about her choosing and I bet you anything, she’ll get on board-thinking that it is a very special thing to have a “sleepover” with her dolly! Check out this excellent article on the benefits of respecting your child’s autonomy by giving them choices:
7. Last but not least, affirm, affirm, affirm. As I talked about in my previous post, children go crazy for positive reinforcement and compliments. Tell your child what he or she is doing right! Focus on the positive skillsets that your child is developing vs. always harping on the negative behaviors. Extinction is a well-known behavioral modification intervention. We want to focus so much on the positive, prosocial behaviors, that eventually the negative behaviors will become extinct. So catch your child doing something good and tell them! Check out this article for more information on the different forms of behavioral extinction for children.
For all the parents out there that may be having some problems with their child, I hope that this information can be a helpful tool for increasing positive behaviors. Never give up! No one is a perfect parent. With that being said, what have been your tried and true methods for achieving desirable behavior from your child? What are your biggest struggles as a parent?
I’ll leave you with a quote that seems to sum up parenting a defiant child pretty well:
First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.