A few of us might be able to relate to the scenario of making the regular pick-up from childcare and being informed (yet again) that our two-and-a-half-year-old has been behaving inappropriately. Not listening to the teachers, hitting other children, refusing to sit during group time--we can all agree that tantrums, defiance, and aggression are common, yet tough behaviours to deal with. But with the right tools and guidance, you can start working on resolving these issues.

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Understand the cause

There’s usually a reason why your child behaves a certain way. To be able to develop an effective strategy to combat behavioural problems, you’ll need to find the root of the problems first. Check in with your child’s health and whether they’ve been getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep and being overtired makes a child upset (just like with us adults!) and this could be the reason they’re acting out. Have there been any recent changes in your family life such as moving house, a new baby or starting childcare? Major disruption to your child’s routine can cause misbehaviour. The best way to work through this is with patience, understanding, and loving support.


Rules and boundaries

For children to be able to understand what’s expected of them, it’s advised you set rules that are clear, meaningful, and specific. Constantly saying “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” can eventually frustrate your child, as it may make them feel like they’re not allowed to do anything, and they could end up challenging your limits even further. Positive rules are always better than negative ones. Emphasise what they can do, and explain the reason behind your rules. For example, instead of saying “Don’t stand on the chair!”, try saying “Please sit on the chair. If you stand on the chair, you might fall and hurt yourself.”


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Consistency

Once you’ve set a limit, you need to ensure that you (and other caregivers) carry it out all the time, even with all the screaming and wailing that may happen along the way. Children are smart little cookies--once they realise they can get away with something, they will see this as a window to break all the other rules that you’ve put in place. When your child sees you following through on your promises (both good and bad), they quickly learn to trust and respect you. So if you say that you’ll go home straight away if your child refuses to put a hat on at the park, then you’ll need to follow through and go home if your child still persists. This is how children learn to understand the consequences of their actions.


Focus on the positive

Often, the reason behind your child’s difficult behaviours is simply to draw your attention. Be careful not to give attention to this kind of behaviour, and instead direct your attention to the positive behaviours that you’d like to see more of. When your child is behaving in a way that you like, give them plenty of meaningful praise. Positive feedback reminds your child of the types of behaviour that you’d like to see more of, and will encourage them to continue in the same way.

Every child and every family is different and has different circumstances, so you it’s important to find the strategies that work best for you and your family. If you are very concerned about your child’s behaviour, you can always consult your GP.