This Business of Behaviour – Do’s and Don’ts By Talia Shapero

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher or a caregiver, dealing with children’s behaviour can be challenging, tiresome and relentless. Try and be consistent in your approach and hopefully by following these tips, you’ll elicit (at least some of!) the behaviours you want.

  • Ignore Unwanted Behaviour

While certain behaviours warrant attention and action, often the best strategy to address low level behaviour is to ignore it. Children like to test their boundaries and young children in particular enjoy observing the cause and effect responses that certain behaviours elicit. Think how many times you’ve (unwillingly) played ‘Let’s throw my spoon on the floor and Daddy will pick it up and then repeat.’ Attention can be a large motivator of unwanted behaviours. Cease the attention, cease the behaviour.

  • Follow Through with Consequences

You know your child best. Sometimes ignoring negative behaviour isn’t enough to control it. Whatever your positive or negative consequence may be (and everyone has different strategies), BE CONSISTANT AND FOLLOW THROUGH. Children thrive on predictability and routine and learn from the reactions of adults. If you’ve told your child that the next time he hits his sister, he won’t be able to join you on a trip to Legoland, try to ensure that you can follow through with that consequence. Often consequences don’t get addressed because of the logistical difficulties implementing them. Whatever you do or say, choose something that you can realistically follow through with.

  • Address the Behaviour, NOT the Child

We know it’s important to foster children’s self-esteem while they’re still developing into independent adults. If your child misbehaves, address the specific behaviour as opposed to a flaw in his character. I would also encourage explaining WHY the behaviour is unwanted and the consequences to others. Go back to the hitting example – instead of saying “What’s wrong with you?”, try saying “I don’t like you hitting your sister because you might hurt her and if you keep hitting her, she might not want to play with you – you have so much fun playing together, don’t you?” Try and stick to a simple script that your child can relate to and that can be repeated.  For very young children though, you may find that 2-3 simple words will usually be more effective than longer explanations.

  • Praise Specific Behaviour

While unwanted behaviour sometimes need to be addressed with negative consequences, I cannot stress enough the importance of using positive praise or reinforcement to address positive behaviours! Children need to feel good about themselves and we should be building upon their social and emotional development wherever possible. Try and make sure that praise is specific to the task. For example, if you see your child sharing a toy with another child, instead of saying “You’re such a nice boy,” try and be more specific to the behaviour: “I like the way you’re sharing your toy and giving Izzy a turn too, look you’ve made her so happy, that’s so nice of you!” Again, simplify sentences for toddlers and preschoolers. By addressing the specific behaviour, children have a clear idea of why they are being praised and they’re more likely to repeat behaviour that gives them positive reinforcement and a feeling of self-worth.

talia_HeadshotTalia Shapero is an experienced dual qualified teacher in Ontario and the UK who has a passion for early years education. She is co-founder of the Smart Cookie Club, a holistic, play-based learning program for toddlers and preschoolers and their parents and nannies.




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