In this day and age, it seems that people are very quick to jump to the conclusion that when a child is acting up, that they may have some form of behavioural problems. But how do we know if it’s truly just a phase or if it’s something more serious that needs looking into and support? I speak to Early Years Consultant and Parenting Coach Sallianne Robinson to find out what we parents need to know about behavioural problems in children:
How can a parent work out when a child’s behaviour is normal and when it is something that should be looked at more closely?
I have always taught parents I have worked with to follow a very simple yet highly effect rule and that is to follow your instinct. I would say in particular mummies have a very unique and strong instinct to just ‘know’ when something does or doesn’t feel right. Think back to a time when you just felt something was wrong with your little one but you couldn’t out your finger on it and a few days later they came down with an illness.
Once you have these feelings that something isn’t quite right, you will naturally start observing it, you may point it out to someone you trust. We can tend not to say anything to anyone because we don’t want to be judged as being a bad parent or that your child isn’t perfect.
You need to forget what other people might say as difficult as that may be and seek support from those who can help. Try the health visitor or doctor for guidance or if your child is at nursery, talk to the key person and see if they have noticed any changes in behaviour. Together you will make observations and if any further intervention is needed, these professionals will be able to point you I the right direction.
What behaviours are outside the norm?
I find that a very interesting topic to talk about – what is the norm? No idea! I don’t believe we should be talking norms in terms of child behaviours. We know that children follow their own unique path and will develop holistically and with guidance by others more experienced, be it parents, teachers and their peers. In my opinion, the nature, nurture debate falls into play nicely here; a child if guided by their role models will learn how to interact with the world on a multitude of levels.
Usually their behaviours are as a direct result as to how they are parented and what role models they have to follow. Children will do what naturally comes to them. We are here to facilitate their learning and show them holistically how to interact in the world. If there are limited rules, boundaries and clear guidelines, something I believe children thrive upon, they will make their own rules up.
If these are deemed incorrect by others and not developed and guided, their behaviour will usually deteriorate and they will slowly be labelled as having behavioural issues. This is rectified by simple yet effective parenting techniques that I have shown many parents who have labelled their children as having behavioural issues. I always start with the parent, see what parenting skills they are adopting and start here.
I firmly go back to the fact that if your instincts are telling you otherwise, you and those professionals around you should naturally pick up on alternative behaviour traits that need some attention.
What are the things that affects a child’s behaviour?
I always start with the number one factor that effects a child’s behaviour and that is the parents’ skills to manage and educate their child. Nearly every family I have been to observe claims their child has behavioural issues and on initial observations, these traits can easily be rectified with support offered to parents on how to educate and role model for their child.
When a parent understands that 80% of education starts at home and that they are their first educator, their parenting career is much easier to embrace. Children need managing; they do not come with a manual unique to them and with a good set of clear rules, boundaries, guidelines, consistency and praise, there is a remarkable difference on a child’s behaviour.
Environment, food, exercise, technology and other role models such as teachers are also huge factors that affect children’s behaviour but I always start with the number one rule – what are you like as a parent and what skills are needed to educate your child?
What are your top tips for coping with difficult behaviour?
Ask for help! Talk to someone who understands child development. Most families who have asked for my help simply want their children to do as they are asked and stop doing what they’re doing! Parents can be at their wits end, especially after a long day at work. Everyone agrees that this parenting lark isn’t easy at times.
Asking for help is the key to making fundamental changes. Instruct a good set of rules, boundaries and guidelines and be consistent. We all love our children unconditionally but you need to be consistent with your parenting skills and I guarantee they will understand when no means no and they will still love you for it. And that’s all without any screaming and shouting involved.
It feels like people are quick to diagnose behavioural issues as some form of disorder. What are your thoughts on that?
I couldn’t agree more. I worked with a child when I was new to teaching who had ADHD. In the morning, his behaviour was very inconsistent. It took me a while to understand the needs of this child and with some strategies I adopted to help him cope with his erratic behaviour, I began to see some positive yet slow changes.
What I was always confused and horrified about in my early years of teaching was that he had been labelled with ADHD yet surrounding factors had not been observed or altered; his lunch consisted of sugary, quick release carbs, white bread, crisps etc and he had little exercise out of school.
I did not meet the parents to see what their parenting skills consisted of but I always thought that things could have been different for this little one if it hadn’t been so quickly diagnosed because he couldn’t sit still in class. He joined the other children at lunch time for his medication and sat very quietly and subdued in the afternoon. I would have preferred to look at all factors effecting this child, giving time to observe holistically what could have been done to meet this child’s needs without the need to diagnose and label his condition at the age of seven.
This scenario taught me a lot. I prefer now to observe a child in the early stages and work on all surrounding factors; parenting skills, diet, exercise, education and any other relevant indicators, to work with the parents and key persons. If all avenues have been explored and early intervention is needed, we have a lot of contributing evidence to help support and diagnose correctly.
When should a parent look to seeking additional help in connection with their child’s behaviour?
Drawing upon all of the factors mentioned above, always start with your natural instinct, it will rarely let you down. Talk to someone like myself who is well educated in the world of child development and those around you who will not criticise your parenting skills or label a behaviour prematurely. Your doctor, health visitor or child care provider will be able to offer support and guidance when additional help is needed.
What are some of the therapies or strategies you use when helping the parents and children that come to you?
When I observe a family, I always look at the holistic picture and generally start with the needs of the parents and what skills they are using to educate their children. I teach them what it means to be their child’s first educator and the role they have in bringing up successful, well rounded and happy children.
I guide parents to adopt a set of rules and boundaries that work for their family structure and show them how to remain consistent and positive. Consistency is key when developing a structure and the first element to be dropped by the way side as it is the hardest to stick to. Children thrive on consistency, boundaries and guidelines and will do what they think is right if they are not taught otherwise.
It can seem easier to label a child with a behaviour to provide a reason why they are doing something. Most of the time, it comes down to good quality parenting that works for the whole family. The parents must always be on the same page to remain consistent in the outcomes.
I would always suggest not being afraid to ask for help from someone like me who understands children and how their ever-changing needs can be managed and supported.
Anything else you would like to add?
Go easy on yourself, you are a parent for a reason and we all strive to be the very best parent we can be and to raise the happiest children. That is a huge task and one not to be taken lightly. No child comes delivered with their own unique hand book. Sure, there are a multitude of books and guides out there but none personalised to your child and believe me they are all different. Ask for help, don’t be afraid to say you are finding it hard, you’d be surprised if you voice it, how many others are thinking it.
Managing children’s behaviour can be one of the biggest hurdles you will encounter in your parenting career. Recognise that children must go through certain behavioural traits to learn how to interact with the world they are growing up in to. When you have a good understanding of child development and learn some good, effective parenting skills, you will find this wonderful adventure is a lot easier to handle.
If you’d like to hear more on this subject I recently had a chat with the team at Sallianne Robinson to find out more. Watch it here:
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