How to Deal With a Badly Behaved Child

Every parent has been there at some point, sat on a plane or bus, red with embarrassment as their toddler throws a tantrum and infuriates the other passengers. And most parents know what it is like to go to bed in tears, exhausted and bewildered by the endless struggle. Thankfully, much can be done.

If your child is disobedient and badly behaved, try the following:

1) Remember that a child is not a miniature adult. You cannot reason with a screaming toddler. Children are not little philosophers who will acknowledge a reasonable argument. A child lives in the moment. Telling an hysterical 8-year-old who is refusing to leave the park that she needn’t cry because you will come back next week is futile. To an 8-year-old, next week is the distant future.

2) Treat the child as an individual. Children may not be miniature adults, but they are nonetheless complicated little beings, differing from one another in temperament and personality just as adults do. Some children will be cowed by a loud, angry voice, others will grow even more defiant.

3) Don’t nag. Some parents are permanently irritable. They seem to believe that their life should continue as before, with a clean, tidy house and plenty of time to relax. But raising children is difficult and demanding. Do not take out your frustration on your child. Picking fault with every little thing will only backfire. At first your child may listen, but soon your dissatisfaction and anger will become the norm and the child will cease to take any notice at all. You do not want your voice to become a mere background noise in your child’s world.

4) Quickly move on from unpleasant incidents. If your child has ruined your morning, try not to hold a grudge. Some parents literally sulk all day, refusing to take their child to a party in the evening because he ruined their coffee morning. This will only provoke him, and you will find yourself locked in battle with an equal rather than parent to a child. Move on quickly. Put on some music or go and play in the snow. Thankfully, children have short attention spans and quickly forget.

5) Stick to a routine. Many children cannot bear any disruption to their routine. Routine makes them feel safe and secure, and a safe, secure child is a willing, compliant child. Again, it needs to be emphasised that a child is not a miniature adult. You may feel it reasonable to skip kindergarten so you can have your hair cut, but children, especially young children, do not always respond to reason. You can sit him down and say “look, Mummy has to go to a wedding tomorrow and she wants to look nice. It won’t hurt to miss kindergarten just this once.” But children are selfish. All the child knows is that his routine has been upset and he doesn’t like it.

6) Never label the child. Parents often identify one of their children as a “trouble maker.” Some will even call a naughty child by a pet name, “the little monster” perhaps, or “naughty Nicky.” This is usually done in a loving, playful, and affectionate spirit. But if you attach a label to a child he will live up to it.

7) Praise good behaviour. Children are more likely to respond to positive feedback. You could try attaching a piece of paper to the refrigerator on which you keep a record of positive behavior. Every time the child does something they usually find difficult (sitting still at the table, for example, or going to bed on time), write it on the paper, show them, praise them, and allow them to attach a little sticker or star next to what you have written.

Above all, be kinder to yourself. Parents often torment themselves over a badly behaved child. On top of the sheer exhaustion and stress, they may worry that such behavior is due to bad parenting. But you must never forget that children are not only a product of their environment. Like any living thing, their nature and character is determined partly by the genes they inherit. Finally, you can always comfort yourself with the thought that one day they will grow up!

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