15:18 (GMT+2), Tue, 23 March 2010
There’s no need to fear disapproving glances if your child is well behaved. Here’s some basic behaviour principles to keep your child – and everyone around her – happy.
All parents want contented, well-behaved children, but everyone’s idea of a well-behaved child differs based on their own upbringing and cultural norms. However, there are basic principles such as respect for adults and peers, doing something when asked to and certain safety precautions that cross all cultural norms.
Here’s looking at you, kid! Children don’t resemble their parents only physically; the similarities are also obvious in behaviour. The reality is that a child’s misbehaviour is learnt from her environment.
However, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself. Rather consider being responsible for the way your child behaves. “We learn through copying from those around us. Children use role models to form their identities. They often get labelled as being badly behaved, or as having ADHD, when what is actually happening is a mirror of their troubled environment,” says psychologist Yvonne Dobson. If your toddler sees you and your partner yelling at each other and possibly worse it shouldn’t be surprising if she resorts to similar behaviour in a conflict situation. She loves you and wants to be like you. If you swear at every motorist who offends you, your child will learn that it’s okay to swear at her friends.
“The most effective way of dealing with a child who has behavioural problems is active involvement from both parents, whether they are together or separated,” says psychologist Janet Bytheway. “It’s not about blaming, but rather unravelling the family history to find clues why a child might behave in a certain way.” Christy has two children, Daniella (5) and James (2). “I went to see a psychologist because, while Daniela was angelic, James was the complete opposite. He was destructive, disobedient, a biter – you name it.
After the initial assessment, my partner and I were called in for feedback and while chatting, it became clear that we were really the ones in need of help. A couple of tough years followed, but now I am grateful I didn’t give up because I feel like a different person. “The biggest reward and confirmation of this, was seeing James’s report card on which the teacher had written: ‘one of life’s natural gentleman’! It wasn’t an easy process to admit my mistakes and at times it took a huge amount of courage to go through with it, but I believe our family unit was healed as a whole through the healing of many of my own wounds.” You need to take a good look at the relationship between you and your partner if your children are misbehaving. It’s difficult to do, but absolutely necessary.
Questions to consider
1. What kind of role model am I? Am I positive, spontaneous, accepting, etc?
2. How disciplined am I? Do I do what I say when I say I am going to?
3. Am I too controlling or dominating, seldom allowing my child to make age appropriate decisions? Is ‘no’ more common in my vocabulary than ‘yes’? (Test yourself for a day.)
4. How much of wanting my child to be a certain way and acting in a specific way, is a projection of my own needs?
5. Do I sometimes discipline my child in ways that are confusing?
6. Do I need the intimacy I don’t experience with my partner from my child, thus causing confusion? (My child isn’t sure whether she is a friend and a partner or a toddler?)
7. Do I lack respect for my child’s boundaries or allow her to invade mine? 8. Am I fulfilled in my life? If not, what steps can I take to enrich my life?
9. How do I deal with my negative feelings? Do I withdraw, sulk and bottle them up until I lose control?
10. Do I have too many rules or none at all? Do I enforce them consistently?
11. Do I ensure that my child has things to stimulate her in her environment? If a child is bored she will look for ways to entertain herself.
12. How often do I spend quality time with my child? If you answer these questions truthfully, you can start to heal yourself and others. Your home – hazardous or harmless? The right environment for your child can help prevent certain behaviour. If a child is naturally curious and scribbles on your walls with your favourite lipstick, you may suffer from a severe sense of humour failure.
Toddlers are natural explorers and their adventures can lead to dangerous situations. This will naturally result in you saying ‘no’ more often. Plan ahead by looking for possible problem areas, such as your make-up table or glass jars in your floor level cupboards, for example. Make your home potentially hazard free. Create an entertaining environment and fun situations Boredom frequently leads to misbehaviour. With a bit of planning, you can prevent kids from looking for alternative ‘sources’ of entertainment.
Having a safe place to play outside is extremely helpful. Children love to copy their parents and older siblings. What might be a boring chore for you can be of immense fascination to your toddler. Get your child involved in your activities. If you are washing up, give her a few plastic bits and pieces to wash and dry. Compliment her on a job well done. Make your child feel as if she is contributing to ‘running’ your home. This can work wonders for developing her self-esteem.
1. A climbing frame/slide.
2. A small plastic bike.
3. A ‘friendly’ pet.
4. Empty boxes.
6. Starch paint. Use ½ cup flour and add a cup of boiling water. When it has cooled down, add child-safe paint or food colouring for creative colours. Add a bit of salt to make it last in the fridge for a few days.
7. Old magazines.
9. Old baking equipment to ‘make’ sand cakes for example.
10. A sandpit (covered at night) with buckets, spades, toys and other containers.
Who rules the roost?
Rules make children feel secure and create a sense of order. Interestingly, too many or too few rules can create similar insecurities and fears. Therefore it’s essential to find a balance. It helps if you can get your child to agree with you on certain rules. If you say, “It’s not nice if someone hits you, is it? The rule in our house is that we don’t hit anyone else, ok?” your child can agree with you. A few rules that are essential for the safety and wellbeing of your children will be far better than a long list of strict rules, which will inevitably either crush your child’s spirit or cause her to rebel when she is older.
Spend time together as a family and decide on the rules. There is a difference between preferences and rules. A rule is a non-negotiable family decision. A preference normally refers to one person’s requirements. Make sure the rules you decide on can be enforced. Do these rules respect the property and rights of other family members? Do they help to protect your child? Sometimes younger children may need to be reminded of rules because they forget them when they are excited.
Write down six rules for you family on which you can agree. Explain why rules are put in place and what the consequences of disobeying the rules are. Rather have a few no-go rules than many you may forget and can’t adhere to.
Consistency is essential
If a child is punished for transgressing a rule today, but gets away with bad behaviour the following day; if one child is punished for misbehaving while her sibling isn’t; or if one parent enforces a rule, while the other one avoids doing that, it creates inconsistency. Agree on the consequences of breaking rules when you make them. With mutual prior agreement on consequences, children will not feel they are being unfairly treated. It is preferential if both parents are involved in making rules and establishing the consequences of breaking them, as one parent is often less keen to discipline children than the other. One parent may start to feel resentful for always punishing the child, while the other is ‘the good guy’.
Current ways of discipline through...
• yelling and screaming
• letting them stay in the bedroom
• threatening but not following through
• creating fear Decide how you can improve on rules and write down the alternative ways of enforcing them, such as ‘enforce rules calmly’. Being aware of the way you discipline children and how you can improve your methods is very important. Be cautious of slipping back into ‘bad discipline’. Simple steps can make the home environment a happier place and your child better behaved. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure!
Ann Gadd is the author a number of books including The A-Z of common habits, Findhorn Press 2007, UK. •