Behaviour is a form of communication. Remember a time when you receive a gift from your loved one? By giving a gift, what he or she is trying to convey is the love the individual has for you. In the same way every behaviour whether it is good or bad serves a purpose. In other words every behaviour has a function. Children sometimes are unable to convey how they feel and what they think of. They express these thoughts through their behaviour.
It is essential to set limits and discipline children. However, before attempting that it is even more important to understand common reasons associated with misbehavior. Our resource person for this article is Dr Apeksha Hewageegana who is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and works at Lady Ridgeway Hospital.
Common reasons for misbehaviour
1. They want to connect with their loved ones
When the parents are on the phone, FB or talking to a visitor or busy with household activities children feel they are left out. As a way of reconnecting they may put up a tantrum, throw things or start whining. The moment a child behaves in such a manner a parent reconnect with the child most probably in a negative way. Even if it is negative children crave for their parents’ attention and cherish being connected.
2. They are copying others
Children are fantastic copycats. They copy other’s actions and responses. They would repeat what they see on TV, what their parents and grandparents do and what their siblings and peers do. Remember that it is very important how you handle stressful situations in which children are connected. Also remember that children will imitate you.
3. They are testing limits
When there is an established rule they try to test that to check whether you are serious about that rule. They want to check whether the consequences actually would follow a breach of the rule. If the child gets away without a consequence the child would be tempted to break rules more often.
4. They lack skills
The behaviour problems at times are due to lack of skills. In a child, who has poor language or social skills, the behavior associated with hitting may be an indication of what he needs.
5. They want independence
Toddlers learn to do things more and more on their own. They become skillful in many areas and want to test their skills. It is an important step in their development. Adolescents try to break rules to show their parents that rules cannot be forcibly imposed on them.
6. They can’t control their emotions
Children have poor emotional regulators. They get angry easily, frustrated and excited and also get overwhelmed with those emotions. They have poor control over how they must act during such emotions. This may lead children to misbehave.
7. They have unmet needs
Small children, toddlers and preschoolers are poor communicators of their needs. They try to communicate their unmet needs by misbehaving. They often misbehave when they are tired, sleepy, hungry, thirsty or sick.
8. They want power and control
The struggle to have control and power may result in a battle or tug-of-war between child and parent. A child wanting control would often be argumentative and defiant.
Sometimes misbehaviour is more effective than positive behaviour. If misbehaving or breaking rules helps a child to get what it wants, a child would soon make it a habit. If a child who puts a tantrum in a supermarket gets candy he would learn to use the same method whenever he wants to push his parents to give in.
10. Underlying mental health issues
Apart from all the above mentioned factors, some mental health problems such as ADHD and depression can also contribute to problems associated
What can I do to manage misbehaviour?
1. Giving them quality time
Be with each child individually for at least 20minutes a day. Use this time the way your child wants; play, read, dance, sing or engage in any other fun activity that your child chooses. It should be an enjoyable time for both of you. Keep the distractions to a minimum during this 20 minute.
2. Building a good communication with your children
- Listen actively and attentively
It is very important that you give undivided attention when your child is trying to tell something. Sometimes this may be difficult, for instance, if you are on the phone attending to an official matter. It may not be possible to abruptly hang up. During such an instance you can excuse the caller for a second and ask the child to wait until the conversation is over rather than trying to push the child away. But remember to get back to your child the moment you hang up. Let the child talk without interrupting him. However, show him that you’re interested in his talk and that you’ve been following him. Your body language and your non-verbal expressions like nodding and humming speak better than your words. You may ask a few questions to clarify things and also may summarise what you understood. In that way we are sending the message that we have being listening.
- State rules/ boundaries clearly and calmly in a neutral tone
When you want to give directions make sure that you have the full attention of your child. If the child is in front of the TV it must be switched off before you start talking. Remember to go close to your child and maintain eye contact with your offspring when you give directions.
Whenever you want to change behaviour focus on the opposites which are positive and associated with that behaviour or the behaviour you expect from the child. For example if the behaviour you want to change is fighting while playing, the positive opposite or the behaviour you expect is playing nicely and cooperating with others. Therefore, rather than saying don’t fight or stop fighting you need to tell ‘please play nicely and cooperate’.
- Be specific when you give directions
Rather than telling ‘behave well or be good’ tell them what you specifically want them to do. For example when in the bus tell them ‘remain in your seat seated and keep your hands and feet to yourself’.
- Avoid asking a question as a direction
If you ask a question you would get an answer to your question and no behavioral response. For example if you say “Shall we do homework now?” The child may say not now. The better way is by telling “Come and do the homework now”.
3. Giving attention to positive behaviours.
Positive behaviours are the behaviours that you want your child to have more and more. It may be a simple behaviour as placing the shoes on the shoe rack or helping parents in daily chores. It is essential that they have an opportunity to practice or show these positive behaviours. When these behaviours occur attending to those can reinforce and increase the frequency of such behaviours. It is very important to understand that the behaviours that get attention increase in frequency and intensity. Remember a time when your partner appreciated a meal that you prepared? You tend to cook the same kind of meal again and again, but if you didn’t get any attention for your work you’ll be disheartened and may not think of preparing that meal again. It is the same for your child. For example if you want your child to keep the shoes on the shoe rack more often when he returns from school, you should attend to this behaviour by praising, hugging or smiling at him when you see him keeping the shoe in the shoe rack. You can use other forms of reinforcements or rewards as well, for example, giving stars, small gifts like toys, clothes etc. It should be noted that these rewards need to be given immediately after the behaviour and make sure that a child receives it only after he produces the desired behaviour. In the initial period, rewarding every time when the behaviour occurs is important for the behaviour to occur consistently. When praising make sure that it is not coupled with criticism and it is specific. For example, “Thank you very much for picking up your toys and putting them in the toy box”.
4. It is also very important to master the skill of planned ignoring.
It is basically not giving attention to a behavior that you want to lessen. However, what usually happens at household is just the opposite. For example; let’s say two children are cooperating while playing in the living room. You may be relieved to hear them speaking and playing nicely. You’re in the kitchen trying to finish your chores. The moment you hear them arguing or fighting you would run to the living room and end up yelling at them. What happened was that you gave attention to a misbehaviour and ignored the positive behavior that is cooperating while playing. Whenever we miss the opportunity to praise good behaviour we lose the chance to increase that behaviour. At the same time whenever we attend to a negative behaviour we increase the chance of that behaviour occurring. When you start to ignore the behaviour it may worsen before it gets better. However, if you continue to ignore despite the worsening of behaviour it will ultimately decrease. However, if there is physical aggression when using the ignoring method, you need to couple ignoring with a consequence like removing a privilege (eg TV Time) engaging the child in a undesirable chore.
Using physical punishment and verbal aggression on children in the hope of controlling misbehaviours is not effective. They do not learn good behaviour by being punished and also when parents are aggressive towards children. This way parents are modeling aggression. It causes an undesirable emotional effect in the child and may result in them avoiding parents and being aggressive towards the parents. In addition punishment can perpetuate, using often and using more. These can negatively affect a child’s self-esteem and eventually
Using positive behaviour techniques by all adults consistently over time and across situations is very important for this to be successful.