Kids are masters at testing limits; it’s how they learn about the world and become independent. Unfortunately, the majority of children engage in this type of behavior to learn about you as well – when mom says to clean up, can they ignore her for five minutes? For twenty minutes? Figuring out what makes their parents mad and what they can get away with is just part of growing up.
As a parent, of course, you want you children to behave, ideally the first time you give a direction, but this won’t always happen and there will need to be consequences. If you’re currently struggling to provide your child with healthy boundaries or coping with problematic behaviors, it’s time to make a change. These 3 tried and true strategies for handling problem behaviors may be just what you need.
Consistency Is Key
One of the most important things that parents need to do when applying rules and disciplining their children is to always be consistent. If the rules say your child can’t eat in the living room, but you let them have a snack on the couch sometimes, then you can’t expect your child to understand whether or not that rule is actually meaningful. This leads to testing – your child will take food to the couch, and if you ignore it one day and yell about it the next, they may become anxious or unsure of how to respond.
Don’t Make Empty Threats
We’ve all been there: your child’s toys are all over the floor and you’ve asked them to clean them up several times. Finally you break; you yell that if they don’t pick up their toys this minute, you’ll throw them all away. This is the kind of empty threat that parents are known for, things your children intuitively know you won’t do, and when you say these things your children have no incentive to respond. The stated consequence, they know, won’t be forthcoming.
It may not seem like a big deal to you if you make an empty threat now and again, but you need to look at the big picture. What happens if your child is having severe behavioral problems, for example? In the face of out of control behavior, some parents choose to send teens to boot camp programs when nothing else works. However, if you have a history of threatening consequence you don’t intend to act on, your child is unlikely to make efforts to improve their behavior. And if you do follow through, it may come as a shock, leaving them feeling unmored.
When your child consistently fails to follow certain rules, you may need to ask yourself if you have age appropriate expectations. For example, expecting to have a fine dining meal with a toddler is unrealistic – children under age five are unlikely to remain seated and well behaved for more than 45 minutes in a restaurant. They just aren’t developmentally ready to do so.
On the other hand, children won’t learn to behave in restaurants unless you take them out and help them learn the rules. Your child needs your guidance, but they also need to be exposed to situations to learn the appropriate rules of behavior.
These 3 rules work for kids of all ages, and how you apply them can shape your relationship with your children into adulthood. Set clear limits and be both reasonable and consistent and you’ll see a rapid improvement in your child’s behavior.