Guiding Children’s Behaviour

When guiding children’s behavior we need to understand that many poor behaviours are exhibited in children because of a lack of self control. Self control is not a behavior we are born with, rather it is learnt and nurtured over our early learning years. I believe that the key to guiding a child’s behaviours into long term positive outcomes comes from understanding that they are not born with intrinsic control of their emotions and reactions, and an understanding that we need to foster and nurture these qualities or skills.

Let me illustrate my thoughts on this point. When a child tantrums and hits their parent in a shopping centre because they are not allowed to ride on the toy car, we would all agree that their behavior is not appropriate. However, which part of the situation is actually not appropriate? Now imagine yourself walking past your favourite cafe, watching a woman sitting for a moment of solitude, half way through a steaming cafe latte (you may substitute with your own preferred choice!). You turn to your shopping partner to ask if they would like to join you in indulging, and they say “oh no, we don’t have time for that, I want to show you this new jacket I’ve seen”. You sigh, take a breathe (to capture to aroma of freshly ground beans) and follow your partner to give your opinion on the jacket.

Your first reaction to the situation is the same as that of the child “Oh, but I would really love to…….”. The difference comes in the ability to control the first reaction / emotions. The behavior of hitting and tantrumming to express emotion is not acceptable, the brief sigh and then compliance is acceptable.

How do we foster self control in children? I would like to suggest 3 main areas:

Modeling Self Control
Children learn through watching. A ad campaign showed children following the reactions and emotions of their parents with the catch phrase “Children See, Children Do”. How can we expect children to be developing control over their emotions and to display appropriate behaviours if we as teachers and parents are not doing the same. If we slam doors, yell at the driver who cut us off, or speak to colleagues with disrespect, we are not exhibiting self control ourselves and we need to accept the same behaviours in the children watching us.

Model to children how to express their emotions in controlled ways. It is completely appropriate to explain to a child “Daddy is angry at the moment, I’m going for a run to run all the angry energy out”; or “Lisa is very tried from all the children crying and all the nappies she had to change today, I’m going outside for a minute to take 10 deep breaths”. You will be surprised to see how quickly children will mimic these strategies.

Behaviour Management Techniques for Self Control
There are many varied techniques which can support children’s self control. Children need alternatives to express their emotions in controlled ways. In my child care centres I developed an “angry chart” where children could choose how they were going to express their emotions. In the throws of poor behavior, I would support the child to choose from one of the following:

o Count to 10
o Go for a run
o Have a hug
o Punch a pillow
o Do an ‘angry drawing’ (expelling their energy through vigorous drawing)
o Blow up a balloon (again expelling energy)

Many of these actually become an alternatives to “Time Out” , which is a much debated technique in child care centres. Children need to be removed from the heated situation in order to gain self control. The concern with ‘time out’ arose when children were seated on ‘time out’ chairs for long periods, isolated from the rest of the group of children. The above techniques keep the child occupied and active, whilst still removing them from the initial situation.

Considering the opening illustration, we also need to be thinking ahead of situations which could bring about poor behavior and lack of self control. As parents, we will always be presented with ride on “thingys” or lolly pops at eye level in shopping centres. Some days, we will need to allow time for child indulgences, just like we allow ourselves time or money for a coffee indulgence. Periodic rewards can actually help us to be more controlled at times when we can’t indulge. The key to supporting children’s self control is to discuss with them beforehand what the expectation of¬†this¬†shopping trip is, acknowledging that “yes, it’s sad we don’t have time for a ride today, I’m sad too”…. and of course to praise children when they make even the smallest achievement in emotional self control.

Games and Activities which Promote Self Control
Any games which foster a child’s skills in listening and responding; and stopping on a command will support their self control in behavior.

o ‘Stop / Go’ games such as Musical Statues and Red Light, Green Light.
o Musical games such as guessing the animal noise or where the sound is coming from; or listening and interpreting music through movement
o Relaxation Activities where children learn the skills of relaxing their muscles and mind
o Breathing exercises such as pretending to blow up a balloon (drawing a large breath and holding it, and them expelling air in short bursts). Teaching children how to draw a long deep breath which helps more oxygen get to the brain.
o Waiting games where children need to either wait their turn or wait for instruction.