Managing a child’s undesired behavior is one of the many challenges that parents face every day. A child’s behavior changes at every turn and at every age, and when one behavior goes away, another one often emerges to replace it.

Before this goes on to sound more difficult and discouraging than it needs to be, we have our Program Leader, Sidney Lim, to share her expertise with managing children with behavior problems at home.
Here are some things you need to know.

1 It is going to get worse before it gets better.

Many parents start with a plan, a good plan, to change their child’s behavior, only to face push-back from their child. They experience a turn for the worse, before finally raising the white flag and letting things go back to the way they were before. Granted, it may be a better, less energy-consuming option than an aggravated version of the original behavior.

However, it is important to recognize that this may be your child’s attempt at protesting what is a sudden and uncomfortable change, and that it is only natural for them to repeatedly test your resolve at the proposed change. At this point, some parents start thinking that the strategies they have been given for behavior management are not working, at least not for their children. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to behavior management, right?

But all it takes is a little persistence to pass through the worst! For any new strategy, try it out not just once or twice, but maintain it for at least one or two weeks, and you’ll start seeing your child’s seemingly stubborn resolve slowly chip away!

2 Baby steps matter!

They say that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This applies even for behavior management! We all have goals in mind when we embark on a mission to shape behavior; for example, reducing screaming behavior when a child is upset, or getting a child to learn to clean up their toys after playing with them. We need to know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so a behavior isn’t learnt or reduced overnight. So how do we break it down into smaller steps, you may ask? Well, here’s how it works:
Example 1 – To reduce screaming behavior
Rather than expecting the behavior to stop immediately, we can work towards reducing it from say, 10 times a week, to 8 times a week, then 6 times a week, and so on, until it goes away completely.
Example 2 – Learning to clean up toys after play
Rather than expecting a child to immediately learn to consistently clean up their toys after play, we can work towards having the child clean up two toys after play for a week, four toys after play for a week, six toys after play for a week, and so on, until the child cleans up all of his/her toys!

3 Consequences work like magic.

Our children are angels in our eyes. But consequences do matter, because growing up, we know full well that we’ve tested boundaries and learnt things the hard way.

So as hard as it may feel, we need to be firm. Being firm doesn’t mean saying “If you don’t listen to me and do ___ (or stop ___), I’m going to ___”In fact, that’s threatening, and it can be an open invitation for our children to challenge us.

Rather, being firm and handing out a consequence is a way of telling our children what the boundary is and the effects of crossing it. At the end of the day, it’s about giving our children a chance to make the right choice and teaching them what it means to be responsible for the choices they make.

 For example, imagine it’s “Work Time”, and you want your child to sit through some work (that he/she can definitely achieve success in). Your child says no, and goes off to play with their toys. You can say “First work, then play. No work, then no play”. You could even allow your child to first pick the toy he or she wants to play with after “Work Time”. BUT if your child insists play time comes first, and throws a tantrum, the consequence would be to take the toy away, let your child calm down, then re-introduce the options – “First work, then play. No work, then no play”. 

4 Focus on shaping your child’s character.

Being a parent means we want to do everything we can in our power to protect our children from all the bad there is out there in the world. Sometimes we let them off the hook, thinking that after all, they’re just children. They’re bound to get into trouble for bad behavior from time to time and we just want them to be happy.
But if there is one thing that holds true in this world, it is that we’re not always happy, but we get by anyway. And it is important that our children learn that from a young age, because it helps them to be more resilient, by knowing that it is okay to be sad or angry. After all, those are just emotions and they will pass. 
Shaping a child’s behavior is part of shaping their character.We hope you agree that our children’s character takes precedence over their momentary loss of happiness from time to time!

5 Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Finally, consistency is the cornerstone of behavior management. Children learn best when the environment and people around them are consistent.  Consistent means predictable, and predictable helps our children know what to expect. So even when we introduce a change in expectations for our children, as is the case with behavior management, we need to be consistent with the change for it to be successful! No matter how young they are! The more consistent we are with very young children, the faster they learn.
I’ve had a parent recently share with me an account of his 2-year-old son’s teacher telling him that his son, Tod, is observed to lose attention very easily. The teacher asked if Tod had been using the iPad too much at home. It dawned on this parent that his morning routine of handing Tod the iPad to occupy his attention had to change. And boy, did Tod cry because of this sudden denial of his (probably favorite) morning toy! But through consistency, Tod gradually started to learn to entertain himself, picking up toys to play with, and the iPad was forgotten soon enough.
The point here is that if there are challenging behaviors or habits that we observe in a child, a higher rate of success is guaranteed if those habits are shaped and changed earlier, rather than later.

Hopefully these 5 tips will help! Be patient, be firm, and be consistent. Soon enough, you’ll find joy and success in managing the behavior of your child at home. 😊

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