Acting their age

  • Opinion
  • Thursday, 28 Jun 2007

AT A recent parenting workshop I conducted, one parent asked how I would handle his three year-old son’s behaviour. His family of four sat in the front row for about 45 minutes, listening intently to my talk. When I stopped for questions, the little boy got out of his seat and started running about. His father, embarrassed by his behaviour, asked about ways to control his son’s behaviour.

Actually, I was impressed by the self-control the little boy displayed while I was talking. He started running about later simply because he needed a bit of stretching and activity. After all, he had sat passively for a long time. He was a normal, active child. I told the father that the boy’s behaviour was acceptable. We can expect children to get restless after sitting for some time.

At ages two to six, children learn through their senses and physical activities. They want to imitate adult behaviour but they are limited by their lack of experience and maturity. They will make many mistakes before getting it right. Knowing this, adults should not try to force them to sit still for long stretches. The key is to understand the kids’ developmental needs and behaviour.

Here are some typical situations that most parents encounter with their young children:

·Your child runs away from you and refuses to get dressed as told, and he expects you to chase after him, which you have done before. You should remain where you are and wait for him to turn back and come to you. If you are in a hurry to get ready to leave the house in the morning, complete your other tasks before dressing your child. This way, you can remain calm and be able to say firmly to him that you will wait where you are. When he is ready, he can come to you. Your child will eventually cooperate when you are consistent and firm in your ways.

·Your child behaves well at times. Pay more attention to your child when he is behaving well. One mother of a five-year-old wanted to know how to manage her son’s impatient and demanding behaviour. I advised her to praise him when he patiently waits to get what he wants. For example, when you and he are lining up to buy ice cream, tell him that you notice how patient he is.

·Your child is defiant and out of control. Ignore him until he calms down and behaves better. When you first start ignoring your child’s negative behaviour, he may cry or scream louder to show his displeasure. Be patient. Your child has to go through this phase before he starts displaying positive behaviour.

·Your child is crying or fussing because he is sick or hurt. Tend to him immediately. Always evaluate the situation properly. If your child is only crying to get attention, then find something worthwhile for him to do. Decide carefully how you will respond to your child. He will do better when you are clear and decisive.

Always consider your demands. Are they reasonable or too difficult for him to comply with? Children of different ages respond differently, according to their maturity and level of understanding, Give clear and specific instructions so that they will be able to carry them out without difficulty. This is definitely more effective than yelling, hitting, screaming and spanking.

Avoid making snide remarks over your child’s irritation. Instead of saying things like, “You are such a cry baby” or “Don’t be fussy. Eat your vegetables”, it would be better to say, “You can take a bite or two, just for taste.”

If you remove privileges, make sure that your child understands your reason for doing so. Taking away one toy and leaving others for him to play with will not really make him miss that one toy. Or, you may remove the toy for too long until he has forgotten about it. Be consistent and work out what your child will miss. Set a certain time frame so that this method does not lose its effectiveness.

When one child misbehaves and the others do not, avoid making comparisons or allowing the other children to take advantage of the situation. Never tell your misbehaving child to act like her good sister/ brother. This will spark sibling rivalry and lead to worse behaviour. Deal with each child and situation separately. Pay positive attention to each child. Show your children that they are loved and cared for as individuals.

Parents tend to find fault with their children. This can lead to behavioural problems. In most families, children thrive normally; they do not really have major discipline problems. Parents must learn to take a step back and let children learn to control their behaviour as much as possible. When we correct our children all the time, we do not trust them to learn to do the right things for themselves. Whenever possible, we should allow our children to learn to do things by themselves – that includes self-discipline.

Every child in the family responds differently to various methods of discipline. Parents must find out what works for each child rather than implement the same method for all their children. Even twins and triplets have individual preferences.

If parents have exhausted all ways of handling their difficult and challenging children, they should seek professional guidance and counselling.

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