Often, children struggle with self-regulation. They have yet to develop the skills to regulate their emotions, solve the problems that lay before them and properly speak about the things that they want and need. Certain situations can also trigger bad behaviours. Most of the readers are probably thinking about the dreaded “T” word – Tantrums. These behaviours are done to achieve something, test boundaries or communicate how the child is feeling. How the parent reacts will determine whether tantrums (or any other behaviour) continue or fade out.
In the age of the internet, parents are informed of a variety of ways they can handle tantrums and other negative behaviours. However, these different voices leave parents confused or can leave them with too many options, resulting in the child becoming confused. Instead, the best thing parents can do is set up clear, fair boundaries. When a child tries to test these boundaries, ensure that a just response is delivered and that the same response is given every time the child tries to test that same boundary. For example, children often refuse to eat their vegetables. A fair response would be to either provide an incentive for eating the vegetables (like dessert or an extra 30 minutes with the iPad) or to take away a desirable thing (like getting served only one bite of dessert or 30 minutes less with the iPad). Once you make a promise in response to a behaviour, you must follow through with it. Inconsistent reinforcement can lead to worse behaviours or cause children to mistrust their parents.
When children do resort to tantrums, parents should never give in to the demands of a child. Stay neutral and ignore the tantrum. The child will understand that they cannot get what they want, nor can they get your attention by throwing a tantrum. Once they have calmed down, help them understand why their behaviour was inappropriate and discuss with them different strategies on how to manage their behaviour. Make sure that there are consequences for the tantrum and that they are delivered as soon as possible.
Common Triggers for Negative Behaviours
Children, especially young ones, usually lack the tools that allow them to navigate the world we live in. They lash out over small things or have difficulty adjusting to new events in their life. Some common triggers for children are:
· Gaps in communication
· Unclear instructions
· Unannounced changes
· Question overload
· Lack of choices
These triggers can occur in a wide array of settings. By understanding why these triggers cause negative reactions, parents can be better equipped to handle them when they occur.
The most common trigger is communication gaps. Parents often expect their children to understand what is expected of them or assume they know what to do. That is not the case. Our expectations from our children change depending on the situation. Hence it is best to make your expectations clear and voice them out every time they change. If you are going to a store, explain to the child that they are only going in there for groceries on the list and show them the list of items. Inform them that you will not be purchasing anything new at this time or that they are allowed to get one item. This way, the child now knows what to expect when they walk through the store and how they are expected to behave.
Another trigger is unclear instructions. If one yells a request to a child from a different room, “Go to your room”, the child may not understand why they are being asked to go to their room. Is it because they need to clean it? Or was it to do homework? Learn to be specific in your instructions. It will help children understand what you are trying to communicate with them and help them succeed with the demands you wish to place on them. It would be better to say face to face, “Your room needs to be cleaned. Please go to your room and do it now”.
Unannounced changes can create confusion, anxiety, and anger in children. If a child is engaged in a fun activity, suddenly asking them to change can cause them to get angry. Similarly, if a child is being dragged to go shopping without any heads up, they may be very confused and could become angry or anxious. Having some type of information or warning of a change in activity or setting can help mitigate negative behaviours. If a child is enjoying their iPad time, give them a 5-minute warning and a 1-minute warning before you take it. If you are going to take them shopping, give them a time frame by saying, “Hey, we will go shopping today after eating lunch”. Another strategy parents can use is the incorporation of music. To help kids find brushing their teeth enjoyable, introduce a song to motivate them. Or use a schedule to create a visual aid that can establish a daily routine. Make sure to praise a child when they follow their routine or do things requested of them.
Parents always love to ask their children about how their day went as soon as the children enter the home. However, being overloaded with questions might cause a child to withdraw or get angry. Slow down and ask a question one at a time. Allow them space and time to answer. They may need time to process the question and formulate an answer.
If a child has only one option, they can feel frustrated and may become unresponsive. Allow them at least two choices. If we go back to the scenario of eating veggies, give the child the choice to either eat their vegetables and get extra iPad time or to not eat them and go to bed after dinner.
By understanding some common triggers, parents can avoid meltdowns and tantrums.
How to Consequences: A Guide on Doing It Properly
As parents, we aim to prepare our children for the realities of the world. One of the most helpful things we can teach them is that every action has its consequence. It falls on us as parents to deliver proper ones, those that help fade out bad behaviours and encourage better ones. When thinking about different ways to reprimand a child, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this require a consequence?
Oftentimes, we want children to do things on our schedule. But they are all their being and do things at their own pace. For example, a lot of contention occurs around children cleaning their rooms. Parents expect a room to be cleaned up as soon as it has been asked, but sometimes, children are just slow to clean. So, step back and see if this is something that needs to be addressed (based on previous patterns) or if it is just a one-time thing.
Is it given promptly?
Giving the consequences close to the action allows the child to create the connection between their action and its repercussions. If a child has a tantrum in the morning, and you address it at night, the child may not understand what exactly they are being punished for. It is better to administer the consequence as soon as they have calmed down and are receptive to you.
Is it fitting the act?
Make sure the consequence is appropriate to the behaviour. Going overboard might have the opposite effect and cause children to disassociate from you. But go too easy, and the child may learn that their behaviours do not matter. For instance, if your child does a good job of cleaning their room, it would be ill-fitting to give them $100 as a reward. It would be fair to give them verbal praise and acknowledge the effort they put into cleaning and show excitement for the next time they clean their room this well (if not better). On the flip side, ignoring their efforts to clean their room or offering only one-worded praise might discourage them from cleaning up their room in the future.
Think carefully about the consequence being given out. If a child is behaving negatively, one useful strategy is having a time out. Time outs allow for both parties to cool off and reflect on the events that lead to the time out. There should be a pre-established place for the time out to occur and the child should be aware that time-outs are a consequence of their action. The time-outs should be brief enough for the child to calm down and think about how they can behave better, and not long enough for them to wander and lose attention. Do not sit there with the child either; giving them any attention will make the time out mute. If the child chooses not to sit, put them back and let them know that their time-out time has started again. Every time they get up, let them know that they are prolonging their time out and spending less time doing something fun. It is best to end the time out on a moral note – the child should have learned not to do that behaviour and instead work on using different strategies to manage themselves. Allow the child to lead the conversation and gear them towards the right answer. This will teach them to think for themselves and build on the foundations of critical thinking and self-regulation.