If there’s one thing I can rely on from my closest girlfriends, and them from me, it’s honesty regarding our kids’ bad behavior. Some of us are just getting a taste of it with our walking, talking toddlers, while others are fully versed and bracing themselves for the approaching tween years. Together, our children run the gamut of behavioral issues, from mealtime meltdowns to all-day attitude. However, none of us have tried-and-true answers for how to apply discipline that works every time.
The important thing for parents to know, says Sara Au, journalist and co-author of “Stress-Free Discipline,” is “things are okay.” She tells Parenting.com that it doesn’t matter if your kids are “behaving badly from time to time or even more often, most problem behavior is completely normal.” Her co-author, Dr. Peter Stavinoha, pediatric psychologist affirms, “Many, many parents are facing very similar challenges, and these don’t mean you have a bad kid or you’re being a bad parent.”
Dr. Pete says a common mistake we parents make is paying more attention to our children when they misbehave than when they behave. In doing so, we set up a dynamic and miss an opportunity to promote positive behavior, which will make it more likely that kind of behavior occurs in the future.
If you have a child in the toddler to early tween years, ages 2 to 11, you may be dealing with one or even all of the following five problem-behavior areas. Our experts offer their strategies for successfully managing them:
Mealtime brings a myriad of problems and stress for families. To manage mealtime behavioral issues, Dr. Pete and Sara advise parents to prevent problems before they begin: “Peaceful meals begin with good preparation.”
For example, if your toddler, like mine, is concerned about what’s on TV, or your tween can’t put down his cell phone, the book recommends managing these distractions while you eat. This means turning off the TV, implementing a “no screens at the table” rule, and taking action against other types of noise-creating problems that keep you from bonding. More importantly, as parents, be good role models and follow your own mealtime rules.
Sometimes bad behavior pops up when your child is simply hungry, so the authors suggest occupying your kids by involving them in meal prep. It will give them a sense of responsibility and an investment in the activity of mealtime. For example, your 2- to 6-year-olds can get out silverware or put condiments on the table; your 7- to 9-year-olds can set the table or mix ingredients; and your 10- to 11-year-olds can cut up vegetables with supervision or pour beverages. The important thing is to assign them something they’re capable of doing in order to avoid failure.
For other mealtime issues you can’t overlook, implement rules and coach your children to keep them on track. Dr. Pete says it’s important to never assume your kids know what to do; be clear on expectations. Then, when your child behaves favorably during the meal, praise her to increase the odds that she’ll repeat the behavior.
When tantrums strike, they bring loads of stress to everyone around. Dr. Pete says the key is to remember kids throw tantrums because they’re learning how to properly process their anger. When children ages 2 to 6 throw tantrums, they’re unable to correctly apply words to their feelings. At ages 7 to 9, it’s when they face new pressures; and at ages 10 to 11, it’s when they’re confused about their feelings but prefer the guidance of their friends.
Dr. Pete says it’s up to us to teach them how to talk about their anger, rather than lashing out verbally or physically, which will take time and constant repetition. To get through this process without anger and without submission, he recommends that you:
- Don’t try to reason with your child during the outburst, since he or she is in no frame of mind to listen to logic or reason.
- Don’t threaten punishment because it will only make it worse.
- Name and validate your child’s emotion, which teaches kids to communicate what they’re feeling and lets them know anger is not bad.
- Let the tantrum run its course. Stay near young children but send older kids to their room until they’ve calmed down.
Once your child is calm, Dr. Pete says, “Let bygones be bygones and return to the positive relationship. Have a quick conversation to reaffirm that there is nothing wrong or bad about feeling angry, and make a short request that the child talk about these feelings instead of having a tantrum.”