Dealing with bad behaviour in children

As a child etiquette teacher and family coach much of my work involves resolving bad behaviour in children.  However, what one parent might think is bad behaviour in a child may be considered acceptable behaviour by another.

Circumstances can play a large part in your reaction to the behaviour of your children.  For example, if you are living in a cramped space you might find it more difficult to cope with their behaviour.  And of course, reactions of parents differ tremendously.  Some parents take a very strict approach whereas others have more patience.

The character of your child will define how he or she reacts to stress.  Some children will withdraw quietly and hide away and others will noisily demand your attention.

Some common reasons children behave badly
Changes that occur in your children’s lives can cause them to behave badly and here are some of the changes that might be responsible:

  • Moving house
  • Birth of a new baby
  • Starting nursery school
  • New child minder

In addition, if there is a problem within the family and it has upset you the chances are your children will be affected and at a time when you feel less able to cope their difficult behaviour will seem worse than it really is.

Sometimes, your handling of problems in the past can cause your children to react in specific ways.  For example, if you have bought sweets for your child to encourage good behaviour in shops the chances are that he or she will always expect them when you go shopping together.

Tantrums are another way in which children seek to get what they want which includes more of your attention, even if it is bad attention.  A child may wake up during the night, and throw a tantrum so that you cuddle them and keep them company.  It is much better to give a child more attention when their behaviour is good and less when they are behaving badly.

There are a myriad of reasons why children behave badly but you can often recognise the things that precede it.  For example, difficult behaviour could be associated with hunger, boredom, over excitement, frustration or tiredness.

Is your child’s behaviour a problem?
If your child’s difficult behaviour is not causing too many problems you need to assess whether it is just a phase or whether you need to do something about it.  If it is something you feel your child may grow out of you could leave it for a while and see whether it resolves itself.

If your child’s bad behaviour is upsetting other people or members of the family, even if you are not particularly worried about it, you should address the problem.

Doing the right thing
What you do about your child’s behaviour has to be right for everyone concerned.  You have to believe in what you are doing because if you don’t, you can be sure that your child will know that your heart isn’t in it.  You have to mean what you say.

When you have decided what to do, continue doing it;  resolving bad behaviour in children can take time and if it’s not working out as quickly as you would like, seek support and advice from your partner,  family coach, best friend, other parents, health visitor or your doctor.  It’s useful to have someone you can discuss the problem with.

Be consistent
Remember to be consistent in your course of action because children need consistency.  Reacting to the bad behaviour differently from one day to the next will lead to confusion.  It’s vital that everyone involved also reacts to the problem in the same way.

Don’t over react
Easier said than done, you might feel! When children are repeatedly annoying you may feel both angry and frustrated.  Taking those feelings out on your children can make problems worse and whilst it may be almost impossible not to show your irritation on occasion, it’s necessary that you remain in control.  Once you have reprimanded your child move on to something that you both enjoy and like doing together. You can better manage your frustration by talking to your family coach or other parents.

Communicate with your child
Telling your child to do something without explaining why is not the best way to ensure good behaviour.  For example, if your child knows the danger of not holding your hand when you cross the road it will be much easier to get them to do so. In the same way, if you can get your child to explain why they are behaving badly you will both feel less frustrated.

Recognising the good things
If your focus is solely on the child’s bad behaviour, it’s easy to overlook the positive things. Praise your child for something he or she has done well.  Giving them a smile or hugging them will make them aware that they have made you happy and you can do that at any time.  You don’t need a reason to show your children that they are loved just for being themselves.

Reward good behaviour
It’s important to know the difference between a reward and a bribe. A reward is something you can give your child after they have done something well.  A bribe is something that parents often give to try to encourage the child to do something.  Bribing is never a good idea.  You can reward your child with perhaps their favourite meal if they have tidied their bedroom when you asked them to do it.

Smacking children isn’t a lasting solution
Whilst a smack might immediately stop bad behaviour it won’t have an enduring positive effect. By using any form of violence against your child you are setting an example showing that violence is acceptable.  Children who have experienced aggression in the home are more likely to become aggressive.  There are much better and effective methods of controlling your child’s behaviour than smacking.

Extra support with difficult behaviour
Nowadays, there is such a network of support that no parent has to deal with bad or difficult behaviour alone.  Your family coach, GP, social worker or health visitor are all available for you to talk to.  Sometimes, a little encouragement may be all that is necessary for you to appreciate that you are doing things correctly.