Always remember that babies’ crying or not sleeping is just related to babies getting their needs met. They are not doing it to misbehave or to annoy you. The following approaches will help upset and stress to a minimum:
Be loving and comforting with your baby right from the start
- Gradually introduce simple routines
- When older babies start to get “on the move”, use distraction tactics when they are about to do something you don’t want them to (e.g. swapping a safe toy for your house keys)
- So that your baby can enjoy sensible challenges and exploration, without being unsafe or told “no” all the time, thoughtfully “baby-proof” your home
- Gently show your baby that sometimes you have to set limits. For example, when you need to strap them into their car seat, you can say something like “I know you don’t like it, but we have to do it to keep you safe”. Enforce limits like this with good humour and a smile and it’s far less likely to develop into a battle of wills. Distraction can be a great help here too
- Never smack your baby or shout at them
All toddlers, as they learn, need to test limits – to see where they are! They will also try to be independent, to learn through exploration or “getting into” everything. As they do this, they will inevitably experience frustration and need to vent these emotions.
Because they haven’t yet got other ways of explaining their feelings (e.g. verbally) and have not yet learned to control and manage their emotions (see Emotion Coaching) they resort to tantrums. All toddlers do this, it is natural and most behaviour in toddlers that we as parents call “naughty” is actually just a part of normal child development.
Our responsibility as parents is to respond positively and appropriately to our toddler’s behaviour, so that he or she learns about the importance of limits, boundaries, discipline and respect, as well developing into a curious, adventurous, confident, caring, happy person.
The following approaches can help you achieve this, while coping well with the parenting challenges that many toddlers bring:
- Have clear, simple rules and routines to cut down the need for battles
- Praise every little bit of good behaviour you want to encourage
- When it is safe and acceptable for you to do so (i.e. the behaviour does not break any of your rules), ignoring behaviour you don’t like, will mean it is less likely to be repeated
- Avoid using orders and ultimatums with your toddler
- Keep your use of “no” to a minimum use “later” or “soon” if you can
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings – “I know you are angry” (this aspect of Emotion Coaching can help children recognise, understand and control their emotions)
- Remain calm and reasonable yourself, even when your toddler is in a rage, by taking a deep breath and waiting before you respond (see also Keeping Calm). You may need to put your child somewhere safe and physically distance yourself from them for a little while to help you calm down
- Remember that smacking, quite apart from being illegal, is always likely to make toddler behaviour worse and can make your child very afraid of you
Primary school age children
As children grow older, they continue to develop a greater ability and desire to explore, to learn and to assert independence. This involves showing they have a mind of their own, with their own thoughts and needs. It can also involve children appearing (or being) cheeky or disobedient as they continue to test and understand their place in the world and where they stand in relation to rules and limits.
As children age, it is really important that parents review rules and limits and adjust them as appropriate to suit changing circumstances (e.g. as children start to go out on their own for the first times).
Even though our children may seem very independent, they still need lots of love and reassurance from us as their parents.
The following approaches can help positive parenting of children at this stage of their lives:
- Be sure to give your child some Special Time every day
- Describe exactly what you want your child to do in positive terms (e.g. “Please talk quietly”, rather than “Don’t shout!”). Tell your children what you DO want them to do, rather than what you DON’T want them to do. Give reasons and make sure that you listen to their views
- Try not to give too many orders. Constantly saying “Do this” and “Don’t do that” can overwhelm a child
- Also avoid giving “Chain commands”, which are confusing and unhelpful
- Always listen actively and listen carefully to your child talking about their friends, interests and what they have been up to. Be alert to any concerns or worries they may have as this can make their behaviour worse. Talk calmly and constructively about any areas of concern or conflict
- Regularly give your child Effective Praise
- Ignore minor misbehaviour when safe to do so
- Keep criticisms to a minimum – and only criticise your child’s behaviour, not your child as a person, which can seriously damage their self- esteem. It is much better to say, for example, “That was a dangerous thing to do because you could have been hurt” rather than “You’re stupid! What did you do that for?”
- “Pick your battles” carefully. You only need “pick a battle” and stand your ground if agreed rules have been broken. There is no point getting into pointless arguments about other things
- Where rules have been broken, be sure to follow through with agreed Consequences in a calm, matter of fact way. There is no point whatsoever having rules, if you do not enforce and Follow Through with them in a consistent, persistent way
From pre-adolescence on, it is normal for young people to challenge their parents more. This is partly the continuing process of them spreading their wings and partly the effect of the ever wider and greater influences on them from friends, TV and the Internet. As teenagers continue to develop their own personalities, including their own values and priorities, they (and you!) will find that there are simply some things about which teenagers disagree with their parents. To cope with such inevitable situations, it is suggested that you:
- Don’t take bad behaviour personally
- Try to understand how hard it is to gain independence and a sense of identity and think back to how you felt at that age
- Keep communicating – your teenager still needs your love and respect
- Try to be “non-judgemental” about their behaviour
- Keep criticism to a minimum and trust them to make the right decisions, as sometimes they need to learn from their mistakes
- Adjust your rules, to reflect teenagers’ greater independence, maturity and changing interests, while ensuring that your rules and limits are clear with reasonable consequences
- Try not to use threats or orders
- Talk and negotiate solutions when there is a disagreement
- Never hit a young person. Apart from the legal implications, physical punishment only makes defiant, teenage behaviour much worse and can damage self-esteem (yours as well as your child’s)