Managing difficult behaviours and knowing why it can all go wrong

When you are faced with your child’s more challenging behaviours it can be helpful to have a process you can follow.  Managing difficult behaviours and knowing why it can all go wrong is a key part of this.  Otherwise, you can find yourself saying and doing all kinds of unconstructive things in the heat of the moment.  But as you consider what is right for your family be sure to think about the long-term effects of what you are doing.  And the importance of getting this right.

Managing difficult behaviours and knowing why it can all go wrong are not easy parts of parenting

Dealing with difficult behaviours is one of the most common concerns I hear from parents.  It is then always reassuring – and helpful – to have a plan or approach in mind.  No one said this would be easy, but it is an especially important and necessary part of parenting.  And yet one that so many parents are getting so wrong.

With many pre-packaged solutions being promoted with enticing promises of success it is no wonder parents are confused into following all kinds of behaviours.  But please – before you embark on a new behaviour management technique, take a moment, and consider what it is actually doing to your child.

Disciplining your child is an essential part of parenting.  Punishing them is not. 

Whilst these terms may appear similar on the surface, their meaning, and their effects are anything but.  Discipling your child is all about helping them to understand that they are in control of their behaviours.  It is about helping them to take ownership of the decisions they are making – and learning that there are consequences that may come from their actions. 

When a child is punished, be it physically or emotionally, an external force holds them accountable for what they have done. All the attention becomes focused on the captured behaviour and any element of choice in the moment is removed.  As is any chance to develop appropriate, responsible or caring responses.

Punishment is not a learning process and has little in the way of any long-term benefits

If you find yourself wondering where it is all going wrong, ask yourself whether you are using threats or punishments to manage your child’s behaviours.  Are your comments or actions centred on removing power from your child and leaving them powerless to respond?  Are you giving them any opportunity to develop a sense of right or wrong or a chance to willingly do the right thing?  Do your actions look to exclude them physically or emotionally?

A child expecting punishment for any mistake is being taught to avoid taking a risk or voicing an opinion

Being punished – whether physically or emotionally, through exclusion or threats – teaches your child nothing about why they have acted this way.  Or alternative responses for next time.  Neither does it create a desire in your child to do the right thing, just a fear of getting caught. 

Instead – use every experience to teach them about their capabilities, and their responsibilities.  Encourage ownership of their actions, along with opportunities to fix whatever wrong has been done.

Keep these principles clearly in mind and your actions in these difficult moments can be reframed so that everyone is left feeling empowered and dignified.

This session is taken from our course: The Secure Child

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.


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