No matter how much we dress them up like little adults, kids are still kids. They haven’t had time to learn how to completely control their behavior and emotions. So when kids misbehave, adults need to think carefully about what is going on before giving consequences and punishments. Misbehavior can be a child’s way of saying there is something wrong that is out of their control.
Look at Your Child’s Developmental Level
Infants cry and fuss when they need something or when they are in distress. They don’t use these behaviors to annoy you. Most experts agree that you cannot spoil a baby who is less than six months old, so using a positive approach is always better. Punishing these little ones is never appropriate.
Toddlers are in the very early stages of learning to control their behavior. Often, when you punish a toddler, you are punishing for something he or she has not had a chance to learn yet! Remember, it takes a lot of practice for a toddler to begin to learn control. Toddlers often use their behavior to test what is acceptable and what is not.
As children get older, they learn more about what is expected. Take time to understand where your child is in the process of self-control and act accordingly. For instance, a three-year-old who has trouble waiting for a turn is showing typical behavior for his or her development. A ten-year-old who cuts in line and refuses to wait for a turn is not.
Look at Your Child’s Physical Condition
It’s 8:30 p.m. at the mall and a two-year-old in a stroller is having a major meltdown. The parent says, “Stop crying right now or I’ll give you something to cry about!” This parent’s reaction is totally ignoring clues about the child’s physical condition. The child is likely tired, bored and over-stimulated, and he or she has no control over the situation!
Kids who are tired, hungry, bored, scared, confused, hot, or who don’t feel well are very likely to exhibit negative behavior. Sometimes they need help with their physical condition rather than a punishment.
Look at Stress
Children feel stress, too! Sometimes the stress levels of the adults around them can affect the children.
The Jones family is planning a move to a new house. The parents are under a lot of stress with home inspections, closing dates, etc. They are beginning to pack things up, including some of the children’s toys. Now they begin to notice behavior changes in the children—more crying and whining, potty accidents and fighting. Mom and Dad take the time to sit down with the children separately and talk about the move. Some of the questions the kids had:
- What happened to my toys? Who will get them?
- Where will I sleep in the new house? Why can’t I take my bed and stuffed animals?
- How will we get to the new house? Are you coming, too?
- Are there smoke detectors in the new house?
The questions the children asked showed that their incorrect assumptions were causing a lot of stress! The children were thinking:
- My toys are in boxes like the boxes we send to charity.
- My bed can’t fit in a box, so it must have to stay here.
- I’m not sure how we will get to this new place and I’m not sure we are all going.
- Will this new house be safe?
Young children are mostly concrete thinkers and often cannot think abstractly enough to imagine something they have not experienced! Their stress was causing negative changes in behavior.
Look at Your Child’s Temperament
Everyone responds differently to the world around them. This response is called “temperament.” (Some people confuse “temper” and “temperament.”) There are nine temperament traits that affect children’s behavior. Understanding these traits and how they define your child’s unique temperament can help you figure out what your child is saying with his or her behavior.
Want to learn more about temperament? Watch for Betty’s upcoming blog, which will explain each of the temperament traits, how they affect behavior and parenting techniques that address your child’s unique temperament.
If you are interested in finding out about your child’s unique temperament, you can request a temperament questionnaire by emailing Betty at email@example.com
This free, confidential service is provided by the Sioux Empire United Way and Avera McKennan.