Every child is unique in terms of their activity level, distractability, and sensitivity. In addition to this uniqueness, each child is at a different stage of development and their behaviour is a reflection of this stage. Still, even when we accept these facts, it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to know how to respond to challenging child behaviour in a way that stops it from continuing, while also guiding them to gain confidence, competence, and social problem-solving skills.
At Creating Together, there are a couple of strategies staff and students use, and we wanted to share couple of tips and strategies for dealing with challenging child behaviour. Below is a brief summary of a few tips, but staff would have also made themselves available this month on the 22nd and 25th (see times below) to discuss these and other topics parents and caregivers would find helpful.
Set Realistic Limits and Expectations
Limits and expectations are kept simple and clear by keeping them few in number, and by relating to the safety and protection of self, others, and the space. When enforced consistently and in a way that the child can understand, they create a healthy container for play. For example:
- “The sand stays in the sandbox.”
- “It’s time to wash our hands for snack.”
You’ll notice in the above phrase examples, the limits are framed in a positive way – rather than focus on what NOT to do, they focus on what TO do. This reinforces the behaviour you want to see more of while also decreasing the likelihood for the child to get defensive or resistant. In fact, research tells us that when we focus on what NOT to do, that is exactly what the child ends up doing more of. Here are some more examples of positive framing:
- “Walk.” (Rather than: “Don’t run.”)
- “Speak softly.” (Rather than: “Don’t shout.”)
When a child is upset, before the behaviour you are trying to avoid escalates, offer an alternative toy, activity, or location.
Also, as much as possible, redirect the child towards activities that are in line with their needs.
For example: “I can see you have a lot of energy. Let’s go try out the slide.”
Focusing on the Behaviour, Rather than the Child
When speaking with children, messages can easily be framed in a way that can seem to the child as attacking and critical, creating guilt, shame, and a lower self-esteem. You can preserve the child’s integrity with positive guidance by framing messages in a way that separates the child from the behaviour. For example:
- “When you grab the train from his hands, it makes Allan angry.” (Rather than: “You are mean when you grab the train like that from Allan.”)
- “Playdough stays in the playdough area.” (Rather than: “You naughty girl.”)
Reinforce The Behaviour You Want to See
To build confidence and encourage children to repeat behaviour you would like to see, use positive reinforcement to focus on the specific behaviour, rather than on the child. For example:
- “Thank you for helping Sam when she fell down. That’s called being caring.” (Rather than: “You good girl.”)
- “When we tidy up, it makes the area safe for everybody.” (Rather than: “You’re the best helper.”)
When adults observe children in their activities, they are in a better position to anticipate potential difficulties and step in
to prevent problems. Keep phone / tablet use to a minimum, and sit in proximity to your child, so they can use you as a resource as needed.
If you found this article helpful, and you have any other questions about how to work through a challenging situation as a parent or caregiver, please speak with the staff – we are always here to help. Also, bring your questions and learning needs to one of our upcoming information sessions this month (Jan 22 / 25th – see below). The feedback gathered from parents and caregivers at these information sessions will tell us what kinds of resources we should bring in over the course of the year. If you can’t make either of these dates, be sure to let a staff know!