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Child behaviour

Research has shown that babies and children vary greatly in their temperament  – some may be very placid, whilst others may be more challenging to parent.

The most effective parenting involves using mainly positive methods and praise to encourage behaving well, showing disapproval when necessary, but never using harsh punishments.

Tips for positive parenting:

  • Create a good relationship with your child by showing love and affection.
  • Take the time to give your child lots of positive attention – spend time playing and having fun with them.
  • Be a good example – your children will take their lead from what you do.
  • Give your child some control and choices appropriate to their age and stage of development.
  • Emphasise all the things that please you about your child – build up your child’s self-esteem by talking about their strengths and not their weaknesses.
  • Praise the behaviour you want to see in your children.
  • Avoid using lots of negative language to your child. Your opinion of your child has a huge impact on what they think of themselves, and constantly criticising or ‘nagging’ can damage confidence.
  • Listen to your child’s views and negotiate solutions to problems together.
  • Avoid harsh punishments like smacking or shouting excessively. These don’t show your child how you want them to behave.
  • Make it clear that you’re upset about their behaviour when its inappropriate, not them.
  • Have clear limits that are fair and age appropriate, most children are happier living with manageable rules, especially if you explain the reason for each one. Express your wishes in a calm way that shows you mean what you say.
  • Be consistent – don’t tell your child off for jumping on the sofa one minute and then let them do it the next.

These techniques build on your child’s wish to please you, resulting in a better-behaved, happy child and less stressed parents.

Understanding why children misbehave

All children test the limits you set and try to cross boundaries some of the time. This is an inevitable part of growing up, learning and becoming an independent person. Younger children particularly may test constantly. This is not them being naughty or disobedient – it is the only way they can learn when you mean what you say and what the limits to their behaviour are. Some reasons for challenging behaviour include:

  • Tiredness/hunger – children often behave badly when they are hungry or have not had enough sleep.

  • Attention seeking – children will do just about anything to get the attention they crave from their parents.

  • Change in a child’s life – this can be difficult for them. This could be the birth of a new baby, moving house, a change of childminder, starting pre-school or something much smaller.

  • Revenge – trying to get back at someone they feel has treated them badly – a sibling, parent or friend. Children may not understand your reasons for insisting on a rule or limit – it helps to recognise their feelings of anger.

  • Feeling powerless – If a child feels upset at not having control, they may often hit out or get mad at an older sibling or friend.

  • Feeling sad – a child of any age may show that they are feeling sad or anxious by behaving badly and may need more sympathy and affection. Punishing them will only make matters worse.

  • Stage of development – some children are simply not able to do what their parents want because of their stage of development.

  • Adult behaviour – children are quick to notice if you’re feeling upset or there are problems in the family. They may behave badly when you feel least able to cope. If you’re having problems don’t blame yourself, but don’t blame your child either if they react with difficult behaviour.

Babies’ behaviour

It is important to remember that babies behave as they do in order to get their needs met. Their crying or not sleeping, for example, is not naughty or done to upset you.

Older babies may seem to display stubborn or annoying behaviour – spitting out food they don’t like or wriggling away from a nappy change. All they are doing is trying to communicate likes and dislikes in the only way they can. They are not doing it to annoy you.

Baby behaviour tips:

  • Be loving and comforting with your baby from the start.

  • Gradually introduce routines.

  • Use distraction with older babies on the move – point out something happening out of the window when they head for the TV remote, or swap a toy for your keys.

  • Babyproof your home so your baby can enjoy challenges without battles.

  • Show that sometimes you have to set limits – but gently. Prevent them poking in the eye by gently holding their hand; strap them into their car seat, saying 'I know it makes you cross, but we have to do it'.

  • Never smack your baby or shout at them.

Toddlers’ behaviour

Most behaviour in toddlers that adults call naughty is actually part of normal development. All toddlers test limits, try to be independent, get into everything, get mad and have tantrums.

Toddler tantrums often happen when a child is not able to express themselves as much as they want to and their frustration may come out as a tantrum. Tantrums are especially likely to happen if a child is tired, hungry or uncomfortable.

They often happen in busy, public places, which can be highly embarrassing and add to the parents’ stress. Check with other parents of toddlers to realise they just can’t help themselves and that you are not alone.

  • Try to allow them the independence to make very simple choices – e.g. 'would you like the blue or red cup?'
  • Have clear, simple rules and routines to cut down the need for battles.
  • Praise every little bit of good behaviour you want to encourage and turn a blind eye to minor misbehaviour whenever possible.
  • Try to ignore behaviour you don’t like, as this means it is less likely to be repeated.
  • If thy start to have a tantrum, don't give in, but do try to understand and acknowledge your child's feelings – 'I can see you're upset'.
  • Remain calm and reasonable yourself, even when your toddler is in a rage, by taking a deep breath and waiting before you respond.
  • Remember that smacking always makes toddler behaviour and tantrums worse and can make your child afraid of you.
  • Consider whether your child needs food or rest or to be in a quiet place.
  • Praise your child for calming down afterwards.