Are your children constantly misbehaving?
In an interview with Kinderling, Julie Green, the Executive Director of Raising Children Network, shared her advice on how to re-establish law and order in your home without losing your cool as a parent.
Julie shared her ten expert tips on establishing your house rules in an effective way so that they work for everyone in the family. Let’s take a look at them…
Julie believes that, "discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment. It's all about helping children to behave appropriately and understand the basics of good behaviour... in fact a lot of it is built on talking and listening and works best when parents have a warm, loving relationship with their children."
1. Set boundaries early
Julie advises that, “the toddler years are a very good time to start introducing some boundaries and discipline because that’s a time when young children are experimenting with different behaviours.”
At the same time, Julie wants parents to remember that, “ your toddlers' brains are still very young and they may not understand the connection between behaviour and consequences.”
2. Establish your family rules and stick to them
When it comes to family rules, a good rule of thumb is “be firm but fair”. Children will test their boundaries so be ready to commit to these rules as a family and try to be consistent.
Julie says, “it’s important for families to introduce their own rules about what’s okay and what’s not okay, where the limits are and what you as parents expect from your children in terms of behaviour.”
3. Explain the negative consequences
“It’s important for children to see that if they do something that crosses the line, there will be consequences for it,” explains Julie.
Some effective negative consequences parents can try are the classic yet effective ‘Time Out’ or reducing ‘Screen Time’.
Listen to your gut when it comes to consequences for undesirable behaviour. You know your child better than anyone.
4. Use positive reinforcement
Just as important as establishing negative consequences, is the use of positive reinforcement.
“Praise children when you see them behaving really well: when they speak in a lovely way to their little sister or little brother, or when they do something kind for someone in the family,” Julie advises.
5. Explain how bad behaviour makes you feel
Effective communication is key to a calm disciplinary process. Julie explains that, “children take their behavioural cues from parents, so modelling the sort of behaviour where you don’t yell is really powerful”.
Try to explain to your child how their behaviour makes you feel. For example, “it hurts my feelings (or it makes me sad) when you yell at me.”
Try explaining your feelings to your children, “even for a young child, say four years of age, this is something they do understand,” adds Julie.
6. Limit your Time Outs
“We know from the evidence that time-out can be useful, but it needs to be appropriate and it needs to have some boundaries as well”, Julie explains.
Be clear on the length of time out your child needs to take. Try to set times according to something your child can understand, depending on their age. Say 'Go into your room until dinner time' or 'Stay in your room until Mum or Dad gets home' so they understand when the punishment is going to finish,” advises Julie.
Always reassure your child you will be there when their time out is over by adding, “I will be here.” As Julie highlights, it is not appropriate to alarm children or use fear as a scare tactic. They need to feel safe even when they are being disciplined.”
7. Use a calm, but firm voice
Using an angry voice can scare your child away. Julie explains that, “getting angry doesn’t always produce the outcome you’re looking for.”
Instead of getting angry and irritable try using a simple and repeated “no”. Both young babies and toddlers will understand that.
8. When it comes to effective punishment, avoid smacking
Smacking is an ineffective discipline method on so many levels. First of all, “smacking doesn’t teach children how to behave or how to control their behaviour.” Julie adds, “it also sends a message that smacking is okay, which it isn’t.”
She concludes, “smacking might injure a child and it may even contribute to longer term harm. Avoid smacking as a discipline method at all costs.”
9. Learn the motive for misbehaving
Most of the time misbehaving comes with fighting and throwing things all around the room, which makes it a challenge for parents to remain calm. Julie advises parents to, “be firm and say something like “That is not okay. We don't throw things in our family.”
It is important to try and understand the reason behind your child’s misconduct. You can encourage your child to communicate by asking them:
- What are your feelings at the moment?
- Why are you upset?
- Try to unpack everything from there.
Julie explains that, "children are learning how to behave towards other people and how to manage their emotions. They take their cues from others around them. They misbehave for lots of different reasons- it may be mood related for example or they may be adjusting to changes. They may simply be overtired or frustrated and are finding it difficult to express themselves appropriately.
10. Discourage biting behaviours
Julie advises parents to be “really consistent and discourage behaviours like biting.” She also adds, “children use whatever is at their disposal to test the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. Biting is not socially acceptable, as we know, so we do need to be firm around just saying no.”
Being consistent and firm is important for children because, “at age two, children aren’t necessarily making the links between the undesirable behaviour and the punishment, so we just need to be very clear and send very simple messages 'That’s not okay,' 'We don’t do that' and really just maintain the line there,” Julie explains.
When it comes to disciplining your children, things can feel as though they’re getting out of control. As a parent or a carer, make sure you are the one in control when situations like these occur.
Controlling a situation doesn’t mean you aggressively dictate your way, but it does mean you react calmly to your child’s tantrum and try to initiate and encourage a healthy conversation.
Remember, this requires patience, empathy and firmness. You can do it!
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