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Effectively Managing Children's Behaviour: Early Years

16 Nov 2020

Young girl and boy are grounded to the couch as a way for parents managing childrens behaviour in their early years

How To Guide Childrens Behaviour In A Positive Way

78% of parents surveyed indicate their children experienced at least one change in behaviour or health that lasted two weeks or longer in 2020.

The COVID-19 lockdown will have seen many routines and rituals be interrupted this year. Routines offer predictability, which is vitally important to children’s mental health and wellbeing – so when routines are disturbed, it can have a real impact on their behaviour.

Our second nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey identified behavioural issues as the top health concern parents have for their children in 2020. Many parents reported seeing an increase in negative behaviours during the nationwide lockdown, which has been largely sustained since.

Parents of younger children (pre-school through to intermediate age) saw sharp rises in episodes of irritability, anger and short temperedness, compared to pre-lockdown. Those with high schoolers, on the other hand, most frequently witnessed a troubling drop in levels of motivation.

So, what can we do as parents to support our children through these times – and alleviate some of these negative behaviours in the process?

Practice patience and be consistent

Remember children’s behaviour is often a symptom of an underlying frustration or issue. Be understanding and acknowledge their emotions and try to redirect the behaviour into something positive.

Lift the mood by proposing an activity you know they enjoy or (depending on the situation or outburst) just be there to offer a warm embrace – keeping in mind it’s not your role to ‘fix’ their feelings, but just to be a reliable source of love and support.

Describe positive behaviours, rather than criticise the bad

Research suggests that describing the behaviours you don’t want to see can actually be counterproductive when it comes to disciplining children.

That’s because the brain naturally visualises what you’re saying, as you say it – so by describing what not to do, you’re actually painting a mental picture for your kids of the very thing you’re trying to avoid.

With toddlers, it’s crucial to verbalise and showcase positive behaviours in as much detail as possible. That means acknowledging good behaviour, often, and being specific when you offer praise. Rather than saying “good work”, say “you built a great tower and I was so impressed with how well you shared your blocks”. This enables children to attribute the praise to a certain behaviour and reinforces that behaviour in the process.

For older children, the same notion applies. When it comes to matters of motivation in particular, it’s important to focus on the behaviour, rather than the outcome – “I’m so proud of how hard you studied for that test” instead of “I’m so proud you got an A”.

Focus on lifting them up and rewarding desirable behaviour, which will help build their self-esteem. This can also contribute hugely towards being more self-motivated, so focus on being a cheerleader, rather than a watchdog.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Looking after your own wellbeing is crucial, as you may otherwise find yourself responding emotionally towards your children. Withdrawing or changing parental behaviour can add to that sense of instability for kids (of all ages) – and will only aggravate any behavioural issues you’re experiencing.

Parents should never be ashamed or afraid to lean on external support if they feel they need it. Whether that’s a night away from the kids, attending a parenting workshop or seeing a counsellor, there are numerous ways you can support your own wellbeing and in turn, improve your parenting.

If you’re in need of some professional support, below are a number of free resources you can access:

Nathan Wallis is a neuroscience educator and nib parenting expert and offers a number of free resources around cognitive development and parenting.

YouthLine provides a number of free resources for youth and anyone supporting youth, as well as a confidential and non-judgemental telephone counselling service. Call 0800 37 66 33 anytime or text 234 between 8am and midnight.

The Mental Health Foundation has a dedicated section for depression in youth. The site contains a lot of information regarding symptoms, support groups, brochures and helplines you can access.

Lifeline’s helpline and textline offers confidential support from qualified counsellors and volunteers. Call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Clearhead is a mental health and wellbeing app which helps users to understand their symptoms, where to get help, and provides personalised recommendations through an AI chatbot (also available in te reo).

Rainbow Youth provide non-judgemental and accessible support around gender, sexuality and mental health. Call (09) 376 4155

• For those living in rural regions of the country, the Rural Support Trust Helpline offers support from other locals, who understand some of the unique pressures of living rurally. Call 0800 787 254

The Ministry of Health offers advice and provide a list of services you can access to help with any situation.