Fix yourself first
Toddlers are known for misbehaving, but you can avoid a lot of drama if you become conscious of how you trigger some of this behaviour, says Danielle Forsyth, an educational psychologist at Trinityhouse Heritage Hill
CHILDREN HAVE A NEED for belonging and significance. It’s just the way they’re wired. Belonging refers to the emotional connection and positive attention we need with one another. Significance refers to one’s sense of autonomy, capability, and the need to make contributions in meaningful ways.
Think of “significance” as a form of possessing personal power. Without both of these innate needs being met, children will misbehave.
Without knowledge of why the children are misbehaving and what strategies to use to address and correct the misbehaviours, parents naturally rely on their instincts and some of the “popular” parenting techniques they’ve read or heard about. This can lead to
an escalation of the misbehaviours and seldom corrects them permanently.
TRIGGERS FOR MISBEHAVIOUR
‘I need more of your time and attention’ When a child doesn’t feel a strong sense of belonging, she will act out in ways that she (mistakenly) believes will give her the emotional connection and positive attention she craves. For example, a toddler who isn’t getting enough positive attention from her mom and dad will act out with attention-seeking behaviours like whining, clinging or acting helpless. So as to avoid a scene many parents give in to these behaviours, thus giving their toddlers the response that they need and achieving their end goal. Fix It: Make sure you’re giving your toddler plenty of undivided attention when she’s behaving well. I’ve found that focusing solely on my almost-two-year-old for just fifteen to twenty minutes makes her more content to play independently when I need to get something done. ■ ‘I see you do it’ For better or worse, imitation is one of the key ways children learn how to behave. So if your three-yearold hears you use a swearword or sees you yelling at your spouse, it should come as no surprise when he follows suit. Fix It: Develop a constant awareness that your tot’s eyes are on you, absorbing everything you say and do.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect; when you do mess up and model bad behaviour, use it as an opportunity to explain to your child what you did wrong and how you’re going to correct it (instead of just crossing your fingers and hoping you weren’t heard or seen!)
‘I need some power of my own’ A young child feels stripped of his significance when his mom and dad do things for him that he is capable of doing himself. Or, perhaps they call all the shots and make all the decisions – robbing him of having some personal control over his life. These parent behaviours (which are natural and extremely common) then strip the child of his sense of significance or personal power.
If his hard-wired need to feel capable, important and to have some say over his own life isn’t met, he will fight back with power-seeking behaviours like tantrums, talking back, not listening, and other power struggles occasionally leading to defiance in tweens and teens. The child really wants positive power, but the negative power-seeking behaviours are the toddlers’ or tweens’ way of saying, “You aren’t the boss of me! I need some power of my own!” Fix it: Provide more space for the child to do things independently. If they request your help you are welcome to assist, but in most cases encourage that independence and provide a lot of praise when he starts to do things for himself.
‘You expect too much’ If your toddler is constantly breaking a particular rule, consider the possibility that there’s a problem with the rule itself. For example, expecting your two-year-old to remain perfectly tidy at dinnertime is setting her up for failure – toddlers are, by nature, messy eaters because their fine motor skills are still developing. And let’s not forget that children actually learn faster when they’re getting messy! Fix it: Make sure your expectations for your child are fair and developmentally appropriate. For me, this means not expecting my son to sit still throughout the entire church service or remain quiet during dinner with friends. (That’s not to say I don’t hold him to a certain standard, it’s just a standard that fits his age and abilities.) It’s kept both of us from getting frustrated over and over again!
One of the strategies to use is that of effective consequences. An effective consequence is one in which the child learns to make a better choice for the future and the parent isn’t the bad guy! Keep the following in mind: • Respect Our goal is not to make the child suffer – but to have him learn to make a better choice in the future. When parents inflict blame, shame or pain as part of a punishment, the child is focused on self-protection, not learning for the future. An effective consequence is respectful to the child. • Related to the misbehaviour For children to learn for the future, the consequence has to “make sense” to the child and should be related to the misbehaviour. For example, the consequence for throwing blocks around the room is to lose the privilege of playing with the blocks for the day. The consequence for not turning off the video game when asked is to lose gaming privileges for the week. Remain reasonable in calculating the duration based on the child’s age. • Revealed in advance The consequence must be revealed to the child in advance, so he can make a choice between the appropriate behaviour and the consequence. Unless he knows ahead of time what the consequence will be, the parent will always be the “bad guy”. Make sure to also make eye contact and bend down to the child’s height level to instil better understanding and focus from your child. • Repeated back to you To ensure that the child is perfectly clear on what is expected and the consequence for not following your rule, ask him to repeat it back to you. For example, “Just so we’re on the same page, can you repeat back to me our rule for turning off the video game when asked and the consequence if you choose not to do that?” Once the child repeats it back to you, you have a verbal agreement! For younger children, use very simple language, but as long as they are verbal, they can repeat back to you.
IT BECOMES A CHOICE
Now the onus is on your child. He knows the rule; he knows the consequence for not following the rule. It’s up to him now to make the right choice or live with the consequences.
Continue to remain calm and don’t give in! Instead, very calmly say, “I see you choose to lose your gaming privileges for the day. You’ll have a chance to try again tomorrow.”
Experiencing consequences is then a wonderful way for kids to learn to make better choices in the future, and everyone can feel more positive about the disciplining process. YB
EXPERIENCING CONSEQUENCES IS A WONDERFUL WAY FOR KIDS TO LEARN TO MAKE BETTER CHOICES IN THE FUTURE