How to deal with unacceptable behaviour and violation of agreed rules?
Caregivers of children should expand their range of techniques for encouraging the desirable and correcting the undesirable behaviours by setting boundaries for children.
All children behave in an unacceptable manner sometimes. This is normal when they are tired, hungry, upset or scared, or as a result of the developmentally expected “testing” of the set boundaries. During the quarantine, such behaviours may be even more frequent.
Introducing discipline is one of the more important tasks of parents and guardians. Caregivers of children should expand their range of techniques for encouraging the desirable and correcting the undesirable behaviours by setting boundaries for children.
There are a number of ways to tackle these challenges in a constructive way, while respecting the personality and feelings of both children and parents. It is equally important to know what can be done at the moment when the undesirable behaviour is happening, but also how to create the environment that will contribute to reducing the risk of problematic behaviours and violations of rules.
Stop and redirect undesirable behaviours
- You know your child the best. When you notice the first signs of irritability and tiredness, redirect the child’s attention to another activity. We can quickly teach young children that playing certain music means it's time for them to calm down, the sound of a bell can mean “let's exercise” or you can just say – “let's clean up the toys”
- Touch your child gently, caress their hair, their back – the way you know they like it and that is soothing for them
- If the undesirable behaviour is not dangerous, one technique is to ignore it. Your increased attention may simply intensify this behaviour so that it is more likely to happen again in the future.
Use the time-out technique
When a child's behaviour becomes unacceptable, parents’ or guardians’ response is sometimes recklessly harsh and lacks patience – they raise their voice, use harsh words and display non-verbal “threatening” signs of physical tension. Unfortunately, this often makes things worse. Instead, find your focus, establish eye contact, and lower your voice. Being calm is “contagious” and is transferred to others around us.
- Stop, take a deep breath – 10 seconds is more than enough! Then, calmly take the child who is losing control to the previously arranged time-out area. Briefly explain it to the child why their behaviour is unacceptable and that they should sit down and be calm in the time-out area.
- Clearly and precisely name the unacceptable behaviour. For example – “I will not allow you to hit your brother with toys, that hurts”
- One minute per year of age is the recommended guideline for deciding how long the child should stay in the time-out area. Any of the child's yelling or revolt resets the clock back to zero. At the end of the time-out, let things settle down, don't lecture or blame the child. Remain firm and calm – this is essential.
Accepting the set boundaries and consequences
Understanding the consequences and clearly established boundaries helps children take responsibility for their behaviour. This gives better results in disciplining than yelling or corporal punishment.
- Help your child replace problematic behaviour with acceptable behaviour. It doesn't make sense to eliminate any behaviour unless adequate replacement is provided.
- Offer your child a choice and make sure the offered alternatives are acceptable. For example: “You can clean up your toys now or after lunch? What do you prefer? Not cleaning up the toys is not an option.”
- Invite the child to think about their (specific) behaviour and to offer a solution. This is particularly suitable for older children. Explain the problem precisely, for example: “Lately you’ve been increasingly rude to other family members. What do you suggest doing to change that?”
- Taking responsibility for consequences – don’t “save” the child.
- Let the logical safe consequences happen, don't do things instead of the child. For example: forgetting or not doing the work required for school leads to getting a poor grade. Don’t do the child's homework for them, but help them establish and maintain the rhythm of their responsibilities.
- Consistent and tailored correcting and rewarding
- Revoking a “privilege” as a means of encouraging desired behaviours should be appropriate and logically related to the behaviour. For example, when a child does not do the agreed chore, they cannot watch their favourite TV show.
- Make sure that it is realistically feasible to revoke the “privilege”. Have simple and clear tasks and goals, something that your child can do. For example, it is difficult to take the mobile phone from a teenager for a week, but it can be done for a couple of hours or a day.
- Commend every concrete positive change and child's corrected behaviour. Decide together with the child what their reward for meeting the set goal will be.
- Make a list of rules and consequences together as a family.
- Do not set too many rules and rest assured that you will have to renegotiate them with your children at some point. Listing rules and consequences helps children have a sense of ownership and assures parents that children really know the rules and consequences from the start.
- Consistently establishing and adhering to such a routine will help reduce undesired behaviours.
Children imitate adults’ behaviour – Be a role model to your child and encourage others in your surroundings to do so as well
- Question your behaviour. Are you consistent? What do you do when you yourself don't do what is agreed or when you are upset? How does your child perceive your possible harsher reactions, raised voice? Maybe the child is responding to your vague expectations and communication that confuse them? If that is the case, changing your behaviour is probably the fastest way to changing your child's behaviour.
- Analyse your surroundings and the behaviours of people close to your child. Has the child heard unacceptable, offensive and hurtful words at home, from friends, relatives? Have they witnessed physical violence? Have they seen or heard such behaviour being tolerated or justified?
- Clearly and consistently say NO to all unacceptable behaviours, particularly when they hurt others emotionally or physically.