Your children’s teachers are happy with his attitude and progress. You receive glowing reports from friends and family whenever he goes to play or stay. But at home, your child sports a pair of pointy red horns: he’s defiant and uncooperative. What’s the solution?
‘More often than not, this kind of behaviour indicates a lack of discipline and routine,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Dark, who works for Lyn Fry Associates. ‘At school, the emphasis is on structure and rules, which may be missing at home. Also consider whether your child has recently gone through a major change, such as moving house or starting at a new school, as this can also set off bad behaviour.’
‘Other possible causes of problems include marital discord, parental depression or stress and abuse within the family,’ adds Dark. ‘If you’re experiencing any of these, seek counselling to help you deal with it.
Dark recommends the following strategies for getting your child back on track:
- Be clear about what you expect of him. Explain what you want him to do, when and why. This can cover everything from responding to requests straightaway and saying please and thank you, to doing chores with good grace.
- Give simple instructions.
- Put in place routines for mornings and bedtimes. Every evening you could wind down by doing the following, in the same order: bath, teeth brushing, story, cuddle, sleep.
- Pay positive attention to appropriate behaviour by giving your child plenty of praise and affection. Reinforce the process with rewards, for example, if you’re trying to encourage him not to hit his sibling, give him a star/sticker/other privilege every time he’s kind to her.
- Take action to show that there are consequences if your child ignores or disobeys your clear instructions. Time out or loss of privileges will teach him that he can’t get away with inappropriate behaviour.
Give him unconditional love
Children who push the boundaries are usually testing their parents’ love. However tricky your child is being, he needs to know that you will always love him, whatever he does. Don’t assume that he knows you love him: children need to hear it, so tell him.
Now tell us what worked for you…
Is your child being difficult at home? How have you coped?