In clinical practice, having seen thousands of families over the years, the issue of behaviour management comes up frequently. Whether it is the family that presents with an active little boy or perhaps a developmentally delayed child that seems to ignore simple requests and direction, parents can be easily reach terminal levels of frustration and anxiety. Whether it is, the child learning that, if they throw that toy from their cot, will they get it back? Can I get away with screaming at mum whilst at the supermarket?, hitting the little boy next to me?, not cleaning up my mess?, cleaning my teeth upon request?, drawing on the walls at home???, etc, etc.
Developing competent and effective behaviour management skills can be a challenge, as there can be so many life factors that can easily derail the best laid parental plans.
We know from a consistent body of research, that children learn best from having limits set for their behaviour. It is my experience that children crave emotional security. In a loving environment, if firm limits are set and consistently maintained, the child feels comfortable operating within those limits. Without words they know where they stand, where they can go and where not to go. Without limit setting, children can feel lost and insecure. With no boundaries, comes the concept of insecurity, lack of care and parental involvement. Limit setting needs to be relevant, necessary and most of all consistent. Nothing confuses a child more than inconsistency. The mother, that may be trying her best to set limits, only to be undermined by the all giving and pushover dad. A recipe for confusion and failure.
A lack of limit setting is suggestive of indifference. It is that indifference that will cause the child to feel devalued, emotionally at risk and unloved. When setting limits, apply them initially to one action, perhaps cleaning up the toys area. Positive verbal reinforcement and a subtle reward for their effort should follow. If by your second request the child is not complying, the consequence may be the withdrawal of a privilege or time out (2-3 minutes) in the laundry or another non stimulating (safe) environment. The consequence must have meaning to the child. Express yourself clearly, without overt emotion/anger, to the child, to explain and justify the action.
There has been a tendency with social change and modern parenting practices to let children do what they want and set their own limits. These children can quickly challenge their parents. This soon leads to disrespect and a partial breakdown of the parent-child relationship.
Don`t get me wrong, I am not suggesting Sergeant Major, marching up and down the square. I am about, parents being responsible and acting as parents and adults, taking charge and control, so as to guide their children well. A parent should not be authoritarian, cold and overly controlling. They should not program the child to conform or else. The child should not live with the concept of `continuous threat of disapproval`.
The child must learn to eventually control their own behaviour. They should not become reliant upon control coming from above. This stunts emotional development and strength.
Effective parenting therefore, is a balance of limit setting and emotional involvement. Lots of love, encouragement and support, but with the security of continued encouragement for them to operate within the limits that you have set. By encouraging them to operate within those limits, you are demonstrating that you are the parent, that you are in control and that you are keeping them out of harm’s way. You are also fostering the very necessary life skills of self control and the concept that other people’s needs are just as important and sometimes more important, than their own.
Mr Craig Gorman
Melbourne Speech Clinics