Normal behavior in children depends on the child’s age, personality, and physical and emotional development. A child’s behavior may be a problem if it doesn’t match the expectations of the family or if it is disruptive. Normal or “good” behavior is usually determined by whether it’s socially, culturally, and developmentally appropriate. Knowing what to expect from your child at each age will help you decide whether his or her behavior is normal.
What do you do when your kid won’t listen to you? As a parent, one of your jobs to teach your child to behave. It’s a job that takes time and patience. But, it helps to learn the effective and healthy discipline strategies.
As kids grow and change, so does their behaviour. The child who doesn’t throw tantrums at two may sass you at seven, and give you major attitude at 12. The best way to understand your children’s behaviour is to understand what they’re going through developmentally, say the experts. This knowledge will help you with disciplining children without resorting to yelling, threatening or having a meltdown yourself.
“Discipline is about guiding and teaching our children — it’s not about punishment or anger.”
Scott Wooding, a child psychologist in Calgary
Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on the best ways to help your child learn acceptable behavior as they grow.
10 Healthy Discipline Strategies That Work
The AAP recommends positive discipline strategies that effectively teach children to manage their behavior and keep them from harm while promoting healthy development. These include:
- Show and tell. Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. Model behaviors you would like to see in your children.
- Set limits. Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. Be sure to explain these rules in age-appropriate terms they can understand.
- Give consequences. Calmly and firmly explain the consequences if they don’t behave. For example, tell her that if she does not pick up her toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Be prepared to follow through right away. Don’t give in by giving them back after a few minutes. But remember, never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
- Hear them out. Listening is important. Let your child finish the story before helping solve the problem. Watch for times when misbehavior has a pattern, like if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this rather than just giving consequences.
- Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention.
- Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad–and when they do something good. Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries. Be specific (for example, “Wow, you did a good job putting that toy away!”).
- Know when not to respond. As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behavior can also teach children natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping her cookies on purpose, she will soon have no more cookies left to eat. If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not be able to play with it. It will not be long before she learns not to drop her cookies and to play carefully with her toys.
- Be prepared for trouble. Plan ahead for situations when your child might have trouble behaving. Prepare them for upcoming activities and how you want them to behave.
- Redirect bad behavior. Sometimes children misbehave because they are bored or don’t know any better. Find something else for your child to do.
- Call a time-out. A time-out can be especially useful when a specific rule is broken. This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time out if they don’t stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words―and with as little emotion―as possible, and removing them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good rule of thumb). With children who are at least 3 years old, you can try letting their children lead their own time-out instead of setting a timer. You can just say, “Go to time out and come back when you feel ready and in control.” This strategy, which can help the child learn and practice self-management skills, also works well for older children and teens.
Spanking and Harsh Words are Harmful and Don’t Work. Here’s Why:
The AAP highlights why it’s important to focus on teaching good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. Research shows that spanking, slapping and other forms of physical punishment don’t work well to correct a child’s behavior. The same holds true for yelling at or shaming a child. Beyond being ineffective, harsh physical and verbal punishments can also damage a child’s long-term physical and mental health.
- Spanking’s unhealthy cycle. The AAP advises that parents and caregivers should not spank or hit children. Instead of teaching responsibility and self-control, spanking often increases aggression and anger in children. A study of children born in 20 large U.S. cities found that families who used physical punishment got caught in a negative cycle: the more children were spanked, the more they later misbehaved, which prompted more spankings in response. Spanking’s effects may also be felt beyond the parent-child relationship. Because it teaches that causing someone pain is OK if you’re frustrated—even with those you love. Children who are spanked may be more likely to hit others when they don’t get what they want.
- Lasting marks. Physical punishment increases the risk of injury, especially in children under 18 months of age, and may leave other measurable marks on the brain and body. Children who are spanked show higher levels of hormones tied to toxic stress. Physical punishment may also affect brain development. One study found that young adults who were spanked repeatedly had less gray matter, the part of the brain involved with self-control, and performed lower on IQ tests as young adults than the control group.
Verbal abuse: How words hurt
Yelling at children and using words to cause emotional pain or shame also has been found to be ineffective and harmful. Harsh verbal discipline, even by parents who are otherwise warm and loving, can lead to more misbehavior and mental health problems in children. Research shows that harsh verbal discipline, which becomes more common as children get older, may lead to more behavior problems and symptoms of depression in teens.
Learn from Mistakes — Including Your Own
Remember that, as a parent, you can give yourself a time out if you feel out of control. Just make sure your child is in a safe place, and then give yourself a few minutes to take a few deep breaths, relax or call a friend. When you are feeling better, go back to your child, hug each other, and start over.
If you do not handle a situation well the first time, try not to worry about it. Think about what you could have done differently and try to do it the next time. If you feel you have made a real mistake in the heat of the moment, wait to cool down, apologize to your child, and explain how you will handle the situation in the future. Be sure to keep your promise. This gives your child a good model of how to recover from mistakes.
Path to Well Being
The best way to stop unwanted behavior is to ignore it. This way works best over a period of time. When you want the behavior to stop immediately, you can use the time-out method
Children tend to continue a behavior when it is rewarded and stop a behavior when it is ignored. Consistency in your reaction to a behavior is important because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your child. When you think your child’s behavior might be a problem, you have 3 choices:
- Decide that the behavior is not a problem because it’s appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development.
- Attempt to stop the behavior, either by ignoring it or by punishing it.
- Introduce a new behavior that you prefer and reinforce it by rewarding your child.
And provide unconditional love.
Yes, it’s a no-brainer, but children need to know you love them, every day, even when they’ve done something bad.