All children misbehave every now and then. For some kids, though, they act out so frequently that their parents are likely to be surprised when they are being polite and cooperative. It is every parent's responsibility to try and help their children to learn how to behave appropriately. Here are a few tips for solving behavioral problems in children:
- Start young. It is important to establish early in a child's life that there are certain rules and that he is expected to follow them. Be sure to maintain control of your home environment and firmly but kindly let your children know that you are in charge.
- Be consistent. The rules cannot be constantly changing if you expect cooperation from your children. Establish a few ground rules and make it clear to your children exactly what the punishment will be for disobedience.
- Follow through. If you tell your child that she will be grounded if she doesn't come home by curfew, you must mean it and implement the grounding if she disobeys. If you do not enforce your rules, there really aren't any rules.
- Stay calm. Whether you are dealing with a young child's tantrum or the authority-challenging attitude of a teenager, you must not allow yourself to stoop to childish behavior--no yelling, hitting or name calling. Someone will be in control of the situation; make sure that it is you.
- Age matters. Be sure that you have reasonable expectations for your child and tailor both your rules and your disciplinary measures to be appropriate to your child's age and developmental status. Some general guidelines:
Consult a professional. There are times when a child's behavior is outside of what is considered normal, and simple at-home disciplinary measures are not enough. If your child's behavior is out of control, you should consider that there may be an underlying cause. Childhood depression, ADD, ADHD, drug use and bipolar disorder are all possible causes of unruly behavior that will require the intervention of a physician or psychologist. Here are a few of the warning signs for these disorders:
- For toddlers and preschool-aged children, it is often sufficient to remove the child from the situation and often his behavior and attitude will improve. For example, if your young child is insisting that he wants to have candy before dinner, you can simply put the candy away and begin a pre-dinner board game or puzzle with your child to diffuse the situation. Young children often misbehave when they are not feeling well, and are tired or hungry. Be sure that your child gets sufficient rest and eats a well-balanced diet.
- As children mature, merely redirecting their attention is no longer sufficient. It is important for school-aged children to begin understanding that their behavior has consequences. The simplest way to help them to understand is to reward them for compliance and punish them for disobedience of family rules. If they keep their rooms clean and help with household chores when asked, they will earn your trust, and with trust comes "big kid" freedoms. If they fail to follow your rules, be sure to remove privileges such as riding their bikes, playing video games, or watching favorite television shows.
- Older children and teenagers have a deeper understanding of your expectations and therefore must be held more accountable for their actions. Additionally, as they near the time when they will be undertaking adult responsibilities, they must be prepared to fully associate their behaviors with their consequences. Older children and teenagers respond well to removal of privileges for disobedience, as long as they are forewarned about the rules and consequences of breaking them. For example, completing assigned chores and staying on top of their schoolwork are reasonable expectations. If these things are not a priority for your child, they must know that they have not earned the right to drive a car, spend time with their friends or use the computer for more than just their schoolwork.
- Childhood depression: Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying, unfounded anxiety, irritability or anger, change in sleep patterns, change in appetite, exhaustion, unexplained aches and pains, social withdrawal, expressing that "nothing matters" and talk of death or suicide.
- ADD or ADHD: Inability to remain still or quiet, difficulty following simple directions, beginning many projects but not completing them, difficulty waiting for a turn, excessive talking, being easily distracted, not listening to others and interrupting them, forgetfulness and difficulty staying organized.
- Drug use: Isolating themselves from the family, decrease in school achievement, negative change in behavior or attitude, lying, stealing, lethargy or delirium, entire new group of friends or obvious intoxication.
- Bipolar disorder: Extreme separation anxiety, aggressive behavior, engaging in risky behaviors, social anxiety, emotional oversensitivity, explosive displays of temper, defiant attitude, irritability, frequent mood swings, low self-esteem, fidgeting, and varying between hyperactivity and lethargy.
If you consistently notice behaviors such as these in your child, especially if you sense that they are a danger to themselves or others, it is important that you seek help promptly.