Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Karen, known as Woman, wife and mum on Babyhuddle. Karen is a mum of 3 who blogs at Woman, wife and Mum. She started blogging originally to help raise awareness of her eldest son’s disability, Chromosome 22q11 Deletion Syndrome, but found that she enjoyed blogging so much that she has started to blog about all things parenting. Today she is writing an advice post in response to Minty’s plea for help with her pre-schooler’s behaviour.
As many readers will know, my 10 year old has special needs and due to his challenging behaviour I put my name forward to attend a parenting course in the hope of finding some solutions. The parenting course was brilliant, and in fact many of the techniques I learned I have also put into practice for my toddlers, Oliver (33 months) and Isabella (20 months). Obviously all children are different and not everything will work for every child, but my philosophy is that there is no harm in trying. This is how we handle it:
- Make time. I started by putting into place “special time” with my children. 10 minutes of 1:1 child led play every day. Special time is never taken away or used as a consequence. They have that “protected” time regardless of their behaviour and on top of usual play during the day. We have a set time for special time and my husband and I take it in turns to do with each child.
- Praise. I also make more effort to ensure that I praise my children as often as possible. It felt a bit over the top at first, but with my eldest because his behaviour was already challenging, I needed to go heavy on the praise when he did display positive behaviour.
- Be descriptive. With my toddlers I have been working on giving lots of descriptive language when we play in order to encourage their speech and engagement. I have also been playing many games that require turn taking, sharing and talking to role model good behaviour in all of these areas.
- Give choices. I have also learnt to give the children simple choices. When choosing clothes, or an activity, I give them 2 choices only to avoid overwhelming them. I was interested to hear that children take between 5 and 10 seconds to process a request and to respond, and that too many of us parents expect them to answer much quicker than that.
- Be patient. I am counting to 10 in my head before to allow them adequate time to make a choice, or to answer a question. Next time you ask your toddler if they want juice or milk, try counting and note when you would usually ask them again….I bet its sooner than 10 seconds.
- Rewards are quite simple and effective if used consistently, and I have learnt the hard way what it’s like if you stop a reward chart! My toddlers have a reward chart with 2 simple behaviours that I reward with stickers. An older child might need to earn so many stickers to receive a bigger reward at the end of a set time period, but to be honest 2 year old’s are happy enough with the sticker itself – and why complicate things if you don’t need to. The charts I have for Oliver and Isabella currently include “using the potty/toilet”. They get a sticker every time they use the potty or toilet. I stopped doing this for Oliver before Christmas because I thought he didn’t need it any more, but he started wetting again, so we’ve reinstated it and he’s lovely and dry again. We make our own charts and the children choose a sticker from a selection I keep.
Obviously I was keen to learn techniques for when the children do display negative behaviour, and with toddlers often it’s not “naughty” behaviour, but rather a case of them being toddlers, dawdling, whining, tiredness, testing how far they can push us and basically just asserting their independence. My favourite technique is “when/then”. Giving toddler a clear instruction of the behaviour expected and the desired result. The best way for me to describe this is with a couple of examples:
- If one of my toddlers is refusing to put their shoes on I simply say “when you have put your shoes on, then we can go out to the park”;
- for fussy eating, “when you eat 2 more pieces of broccoli, then you can have your pudding”;
- and for safety, “when you hold mummy’s hand, then we can cross the road”.
This is much more positive language than saying “if you don’t eat your broccoli, you won’t get any pudding”. It makes sense that children are more likely to kick off if you said the latter. Oliver has responded to this brilliantly, and I use this with him on a regular basis. I’ve also found it very helpful when the children are dawdling.
Ignoring is not always easy to do, and distraction doesn’t always work, but back one up with the other and it is effective with some behaviour. I particularly use ignoring with Oliver when he is whining. He has a fascination with being the one to shut the stair gate, and if his sister shuts it instead he will start to kick off. This I would simply ignore and carry on with whatever we are doing. He usually stops whining by me ignoring him for a few moments, and if not a simple “oh Oliver can you help mummy tip the bricks out of the bag” will distract him.
- For a more major tantrum I use a “calm down cushion”. We have an area in the lounge where I put a comfy cushion and if a tantrum escalates I put the child on the cushion, a bit like time out for an older child. As soon as they stop the tantrum I give it a minute and then return to them and ask if they want to come and rejoin playing. I’ve learned that calm down areas are good for children if they squabble or fight, but you must put both children on a cushion at different places in the lounge, as putting them too close together they will just aggravate each other further. Calm down is not meant as a punishment as its sometimes perceived, but more of a safe area for a child to do their bubble breaths and learn self control to calm themselves down.
- We then moved on to consequences and I learnt that they should only be used to a minimum. That said there are some natural and logical consequences that can be given quite regularly and with instant effect.
- A prime example is with my eldest son “if you don’t stop kicking the football in the lounge, I will take the football away”. He kicks it again of course, so I simply remove the football. A very logical consequence.
- With my toddlers a logical consequences goes a bit like “if you try to draw on the wall again, I will take the crayon away”, my daughter pushes her luck and goes to draw on the wall, so I simply take the crayons away. With young children though you must give them an opportunity to show the correct behaviour. So, after a short time of the crayons going away, we get them out again, and when she draws nicely on her easel she gets lots of praise.
Of course, there are days when nothing works and we end up with chaos. We’re a normal family just doing our best to make things work as smoothly as possible, but I’m resisting the urge to beat myself up when I make mistakes, for those days that I am inconsistent and it all goes wrong, or when I give in to my children’s puppy dog eyes and crocodile tears. I’m a mum, I get cranky and I get tired and let’s be honest in the heat of the moment when our child is driving us insane….who remembers what the text book said?!
I can highly recommend attending a parenting course, and they are available through discussion with either your local SureStart Children’s Centre, or your health visitor. Attending a parenting course does not mean that you are a bad parent, it means that you are a good parent who wants to try every means possible to have a calm and happy household.
Helen agrees with Karen and adds that playing down negative behaviour in favour of heaping on the praise for positive behaviour has worked for her, and this was a piece of advice also recommended by Pippa too. However, Emma suggested perhaps trying to ignore negative behaviour altogether and not being overly enthusiastic by good behaviour- instead she recommends being pleased with good behaviour, but not drawing too much attention to it. Some children may be attention seeking and happy to receive any attention- good or bad- and therefore this technique teaches them that any attention seeking is pointless. Another tip, from Rebecca, is to choose your battles. She says that matching socks may not be essential, but socks are. Pick your battles carefully and learn to move on from the fights that aren’t important.
Are you experiencing problems with your pre-schooler’s behaviour? Have you tried any of these tips, or are you planning to? We’d love to hear from you and, as usual, Minty will be back soon to let you know how she got on!