Children’s behavior problems are best addressed as soon as they crop up, as entrenched behaviors are more difficult to extinguish. If you have developmentally appropriate expectations for your child, but she is pushing the limits, there are actions you can take to curb her unacceptable behavior quickly. It takes vigilance on your part to stick to a behavior plan that will help your child to consistently make good behavioral choices.
Without limits, children often feel unsafe and their behavior can veer off-course, quickly becoming challenging. Setting limits means that you decide what are acceptable behavioral boundaries, communicate them to the child and stick to them. Kathy Smith, a child development specialist at Ohio State University, notes that limits should always be reasonable, clear, positive and consistent.
She also recommends that parents adapt the limits they set as a child grows older and involve the child in discussions about limits. Limits should also be enforceable. For example, if you tell your child that you will leave the birthday party if she continues to climb on the furniture, keep your word.
If your child’s behavior is challenging, take a look at his environment. In his book, “Changing Children’s Behavior by Changing the People, Places and Activities in Their Lives,” Richard Munger points out that environment shapes children’s behavior more than personality. Behavioral settings — neighborhoods, friends, sports activities and the like — all affect behavior by setting the standard for socially acceptable actions within that setting.
If undesirable behavior arises from being in an environment that is teaching that behavior, remove that environment from your child’s life if possible. You might find that your child’s behavior changes once he is no longer associating with a particular group of friends or playing violent video games, for example.
Rewards and Consequences
Sometimes, you might fall into the trap of noticing only poor behavior, which inadvertently reinforces it, as the child knows she can catch your attention. Catch your child engaging in desirable behavior and reward it. For example, if you are at the grocery store and your child is sitting quietly in the cart, tell her how proud you are of her and offer to let her choose a cookie from the bakery if you are so inclined.
On the other hand, if your child is not behaving according to your expectations, provide consequences. A child who is throwing a fit in a restaurant might be taken outside to sit quietly while forfeiting the opportunity to choose from the menu, for example.
Sometimes behavior problems are severe enough to warrant outside assistance. If your child’s behavior doesn’t change in response to clear limits, environmental changes or consequences, consult with a child psychologist.
The psychologist can assist with disorders that can cause behavioral problems, such as ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Also, if your child is engaging in behaviors that are harmful to himself, others or property, seek professional help immediately. Your pediatrician can refer you to a professional in your town.