Let’s face it. With or without social distancing or lockdown, children may act up, display aggressive behavior, not listen to what you say or withdraw from interaction. Here are five ways to help manage the situation.
1. Observe and identify the triggers. Try to observe your child and try to identify things or situations that cause the behavior. Note the time of the day and the people present. Be aware of your own role, reaction or tendencies when the behavior or attitude is displayed.
You may have to do this a number of times before a pattern presents itself. Is it when a sibling dominates your attention or the family conversation, or you giving praise to someone? Does it happen when the child is being corrected for a mistake or being told what to do? Does s/he clam up when the topic is about school, a certain subject or a person? Especially for younger children, some basics such as hunger, sleep or being overly stimulated can be triggers of challenging behavior. Addressing them, addresses the behavior.
2. Choose a neutral time, place and disposition. When your child is in a better mood, find a good time and place to talk to him/her about his/her behavior. Just the two of you. That way, your child would feel more at ease to share his/her thoughts and feelings.
Depending on your child’s age, personality and readiness to talk or engage, you may consider talking directly about the situation, initiating it by saying you noticed such behavior and wondered if there’s anything your child wants to talk about or if there’s anything you can do to help.
You may also consider the indirect approach by perhaps mentioning that there’s a child you want to help and describe the challenging behavior. Then ask your child what may be causing it and what could be done. Sometimes providing a cloak of anonymity helps children talk more freely because they do not feel quizzed or have to defend their own actions/behavior. You have to exercise wisdom and good judgment in doing this, however, particularly with older children so the whole thing comes across like a casual conversation instead of forced and staged.
3. Label the behavior or situation, not the child. Whether you take the direct or indirect approach, make sure to label the behavior or situation and not the child. What this means is to use terms that brings the attention on the behavior or situation that needs to be addressed instead of shaming or labelling the child. For instance use “the child is being angry” instead of calling him/her an “angry child”, or that “the child speaks disrespectfully” instead of referring to him/her as “a disrespectful child”.
Remember, feelings are powerful emotions, and just like adults, children struggle with them and show them too. But because they are also not as mature, they need more help in regulating and expressing them more constructively.
4. Identify ways to resolve the matter. Getting your child’s input on how to improve the situation gives a sense of being heard, understood and being in control over the situation. Be ready to acknowledge your own mistakes should this become evident in the conversation or is pointed out. Doing so teaches your child how to be gracious and helps him/her understand that even adults are still learning and want to be better at certain things.
Some children can be more expressive and forthright than others and can say outright how situations can be remedied. If your child is not one, then consider presenting scenarios or suggestions about appropriate and workable solutions:
Make an effort to explain to your child why you do certain things such as why you guide or correct them (for their safety, security, health, etc.) or why you are unable to or would not buy them that toy or why they cannot go out? That way they understand the reason behind your decision and not feel they are just reduced to following rules or whims.
Of course some children may be too young to even talk, in which case be guided by what you observed and identified in item 1, and try out different ways to improve the situation.
Commit to these steps/agreements and share them with the other significant people in your child’s life so that your child can be consistently supported whoever s/he is with.
5. Celebrate big and small accomplishments. Things may work a few times and then not, and then you’ll have to try over again or you may have to try another approach all together. That’s okay. The important thing is you keep at it, and celebrate the big and small things that you try and make work.
Keep in mind that every child is unique and that some things take longer to work out than others. So give both yourself and your child the time and grace to do so.
Jean Alingod-Guittap is a mother, educator and journalist. She loves working alongside local and multinational companies, I/NGOs, national and local governments, illustrators, publishers, and schools to support children. She has done so in the Philippines, Singapore and Cambodia.