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The ABCs of mending bad behaviour

School has started again and it’s a relief to get back into routine – or is it? Suddenly your little one is acting up, sucking her thumb, and insisting that her princess tutu is appropriate attire for school.

The first step is not to take it personally or see it as a reflection of your parenting skills. Little ones don’t understand changing routines, and all of the upheaval can leave them feeling unsettled. Don’t punish your child; making a fuss or using guilt trips increases anxiety and makes the problem worse.

Instead of ‘breaking’ bad behaviour or habits, I recommend that you ‘mend’ them. Bad behaviour and habits indicate a problem of sorts; so if you approach your child sensitively and mend the problem, behaviour should change for the good or the habit should disappear. Here’s an ABC of common reasons for bad behaviour and habits: 

Attention seeking– remember, wanting attention isn’t wrong. Tots quickly learn which buttons to push to get parents’ undivided attention; even if it’s in the form of anger. Make sure that you spend enough quality time with your little one.

Boredom– idle hands tend to find their way to mouths, noses, and genitalia; so keep little hands busy. Watch your tot’s body language and quickly offer up a distraction like a hands-on game – just don’t tell your tot it’s a distraction!

Comfort– bad habits can be comforting because they provide a sense of the familiar, and bad behaviour can be a reaction to your stress, especially in unsettled times. Maybe all your tot needs a bit of extra nurturing from you.

Determining boundaries– swearing, shrieking, and prolonged silliness can be a means of testing limits. Rules should ensure realistically acceptable behaviour and control, but still be flexible and based on kindness. Remember to follow through!

Example– do you swear like a sailor, or badmouth colleagues and neighbours? Don’t be surprised if your tot does too! Little ones are excellent copy cats, so make sure you’re giving them a positive example to mimic.

Family traits – some habits are genetic and difficult to mend. If they persist, you may need to try homeopathic remedies or consult a therapist. If a habit gets worse and becomes compulsive, rather seek professional advice; although there is seldom reason to worry. 

We tend to stress more when school and work starts, and little ones pick up on our anxiety. Try getting up earlier or making more preparations the night before to avoid the morning rush and ensure that you still have some nurturing time with your tot. Pick your battles: is a princess tutu really worth a full-blown fight?

Ultimately, you have to accept that your tot is an individual who does things differently from you. Your aim shouldn’t be to see whose will is stronger, but rather to find ways of living amicably together.

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