Creative Solutions for Guiding Behavior
Posted on January 17, 2018 by CHS
Culture, knowledge, and experience help shape our beliefs about what appropriate behavior and discipline look like. Reflect on your own perceptions about behavior. How did you learn what behavior was expected from you? What strategies do you use to manage your child’s behavior now? Are there certain behaviors that are harder for you to cope with than others?
Keep in mind that children, just like adults, have wants, needs, and emotions. The difference is that children are still learning how to express their needs and feelings in appropriate ways. They need guidance from you about what is, and is not, acceptable. Behavior management is part of the social and emotional development of children. You can begin to build a foundation for positive behavior from infancy by using these strategies:
- Develop a loving relationship with your child. As you hold him, make eye contact with him and talk or sing in a soothing voice. Establishing a close relationship with your child shows him that you are someone who will take care of him and who can be trusted.
- As you talk and sing with your child, use words that describe feelings. Read books about feelings like The Way I Feel by Janan Cain. Learning to identify emotions will help your child express himself through talking. Children who do not have the emotional vocabulary to explain how they feel may often resort to pushing, pulling, or biting to express anger or frustration.
- Keep a consistent routine. A daily routine helps your child know what to expect and how to respond to it. Give your child advance notice when there is an upcoming change in the routine. This will help prevent tantrums.
- Teach your child how to soothe himself. When he is upset, offer him his favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket that he can use to calm himself down. If he will not take it right away, then lay the item within reach next to him in case he changes his mind.
- Encourage your child to develop friendships. Playing with children his own age will give your child the opportunity to practice negotiating, trading, sharing, compromising, and conflict resolution.
- Create expectations instead of rules. It can be difficult for children to remember a lot of rules. Instead, try using expectations such as: we are safe and healthy, we are respectful, and we are friendly. Most rules you can think of will fall into one of these categories. Take a look at how a teacher uses expectations in this video (idea adapted from the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher by Anthony D. Fredericks).
Even when you have built a strong foundation for your child’s social and emotional development, there will be times when negative behaviors such as biting, hitting, pushing, kicking, talking back, and name calling happen. These behaviors are normal for children who are still developing their language skills and learning to interact with others. When these behaviors happen, take a deep breath, evaluate the situation, and then respond. Here are some tips for evaluating and responding to behavior:
- If the behavior is dangerous, you need to take immediate action. Examples of dangerous behavior include: running into the street, hurting someone, jumping off furniture, etc. Approach your child, say “stop” or “no,” and remove him from the situation. Once everyone is safe, explain why that behavior is dangerous.
- Use logical consequences when appropriate. According to Dr. Ann Corwin, children are able to respond to consequences when they use reason/logic and engage in interactive play. A logical consequence is when something happens that makes the child want to avoid that behavior in the future. For example, if a child wanders out of the yard you might say, “Leaving the yard is dangerous. If you leave the yard again you will need to play inside.”
- Offer two choices. Sometimes children become overwhelmed when there are too many choices and they begin to behave inappropriately by dumping things out or running from one thing to another. Keep things simple by offering only two choices. For example, “You can choose to read books or play with your blocks. Which would you like to do?”
- Be a detective. Keep a record of the times of day and situations that seem to trigger undesirable behaviors. For example, if your child has a tantrum every day at 10:00 a.m., a simple schedule change of having a snack or taking a nap at that time could fix the problem. If you can discover what causes the behavior, then you can plan solutions for changing the behavior.
- Put a positive spin on it. When you see an undesirable behavior, try to think of a way that behavior can happen. For example, “Kicking the ball inside is not safe, but we can go outside and kick it,” or “If you pound that toy on the floor, it will break. Come to the table and I will get some playdough you can pound.” This helps your child understand where and when certain types of behaviors are acceptable.
- Use time-out for toys instead of people. Instead of putting children in time-out, put the toy in time out. You can do this when a child is damaging a toy or if children are fighting over a toy. Give children the power to get it out of time-out by saying, “When you can show me how to use it correctly, it will come back,” or “when you can tell me how you plan to share it, I will give it back to you.”
- Remember biting is for food. If you have an infant or toddler who is biting other people, it is usually because they are trying to communicate and do not yet have the language skills to do it verbally. Even though this is a normal behavior for young children, it is not acceptable to hurt others. If the child is eating solid foods, keep crackers or a nice big carrot on hand. When your child starts to bite, offer him a cracker or carrot and say, “I see you want to bite. Here is food that is okay to bite.” For younger infants you can use a teething toy.
- Roll the dice. You can use dice to decide who will go first, how long someone has to use a toy, how many books you will read before bedtime, etc. Allow children to be the ones to roll the dice. The person who rolls a 1 or the closest number to a 1 can go first, next closest second, and so on. If two children want the same toy, they can roll dice for who will use it first, then roll 2 dice to determine how many minutes they can use the toy before passing it to the other child. If one die shows a 2 and the other die shows a 5, then they can use it for 25 minutes. Once you have used this technique several times, children will be able to use it on their own.
- Create a relaxation basket. Sometimes the best solution is to take a break. We all have bad days where we aren’t feeling our best and we just need a few minutes of alone time to reset ourselves. Prepare a basket with a favorite stuffed animal, a pillow, blanket, books, paper and a pencil, and relaxing music. When you notice your child seems tired, or is having a hard time making good choices, suggest a relaxation break. Pull out the basket and help him set up the blanket and pillow. Then ask him to choose music, books, or drawing. Make sure you relax with him. It is important for him to see that everyone needs a break sometimes.
- Take the temper out of temper tantrums. Children ages one to three will often have temper tantrums to get their own way or resist change. If you are in a safe place, drop a comfort item (stuffed animal, blanket) next to your child, and wait for him to stop. Then say, “Thank you for calming yourself down. Let’s talk about what just happened.” If you are not in a safe place, like the aisle of a grocery store or a parking lot, then you will have to move your child. Pick him up with his back against your body and move him to a safe location, then, offer the comfort item. A temper tantrum is a biological event; your child physically cannot process what you are saying during a tantrum. Use the time it takes your child to calm down to calm your own emotions. The tantrums should stop once your child learns they won’t work.
- Settle disputes between school age children with a game. If two or more children disagree on something, they can settle the argument by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors or Odds and Evens.
- Hold meetings and vote. If you see your child is struggling with a particular behavior, then have a family meeting to talk about it. Ask siblings and other family members for ideas of what might help, and ask your child, “What can we do to help you remember this is not safe/unkind/disrespectful?” When you have family meetings and vote on solutions, it shows your child that he has a support system that cares about him.
If you have tried every solution you can think of to support your child, but you still see undesirable behavior patterns, seek the advice of a qualified pediatrician or other medical professional. For more information, read our blog on Anger Management for You and Your Child or take a look at the resources below.
References and Resources
- Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL): http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/index.html
- Children’s Home Society of California’s brochure on Positive Discipline: https://www.chs-ca.org/_docs/FEP_Discipline_2017_English_web.pdf
- Children’s Home Society of California’s online presentation on Positive Discipline and Self-Esteem: https://www.chs-ca.org/_presentations/positive-discipline-and-self-esteem
- Children’s Home Society of California’s brochure on When a Child Bites: https://www.chs-ca.org/_docs/FEP_ChildBites_2017_English_web.pdf
- Discipline Strategies (video) by Dr. Ken Ginsburg: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Discipline-Strategies-Video.aspx
- Disciplining Older Children by Dr. David L. Hill: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Disciplining-Older-Children.aspx
- Disciplining Your Child by KidsHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/discipline.html?WT.ac=ctg#catbehavior
- Disciplining Your Child with Special Needs by KidsHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/discipline-special.html?WT.ac=ctg#catbehavior
- Guidance Tips by Dr. Dan Gartrell: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/readiness-not-state-knowledge-state-mind
- Teaching Your Child Self-Control by KidsHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/self-control.html?WT.ac=p-ra#catbehavior
- Temper Tantrums by KidsHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tantrums.html?WT.ac=p-ra#catbehavior