Changing Unwanted Behavior

How Do You Change Unwanted Behavior?

Do you feel like some days you just can’t get it right no matter what you do? She cries if you don’t pick her up then she cries if you do. She wants a toy at the store and throws a tantrum when you say “no.” At home you put her down for a nap, but she won’t stay in her room even though she is cranky and yawning and so badly needs to rest. She wants oatmeal, her favorite breakfast, but when she gets it she flings it across the room and then cries because she is hungry.

Where did your sweet and gentle child go? What is happening? And how can you make it stop?

First of all, parents, be gentle with yourselves. This too is all part of your child’s development, and you can expect plenty of tantrums and meltdowns around the age of two. Even so, unwanted behaviors are hard to understand, predict, prevent, and respond to effectivel in the moment.

The best thing to do is try to be patient and look for patterns in your young child’s behavior: Does she have a crying spell before lunch or nap every day? If so, consider changing her routine by feeding her or putting her down for her nap 15 to 30 minutes earlier than usual.

It’s also important to understand that your child isn’t intentionally having an emotional outburst. When young children have tantrums it’s because they usually can’t communicate their frustration or their feelings. For instance, a baby knows that when she cries, you will respond by picking her up, cuddling her or just checking in to make sure she is okay. But crying alone may not tell you her tummy hurts. Since she can’t talk, this is the way she communicates. Behavior is communication and is not random.

Expert Suggestions for Changing Your Child’s Behavior:

  • Try distracting your child by changing the room, the activity, or whatever it is that you were doing.

  • Reduce the room noise as it may have over-stimulated your child or she may have some sensory issues not yet identified.

  • Model the behaviors you want to teach your child: Teach sharing by inviting her to do an activity such as a puzzle, reading or painting with you and sharing all of the materials.

  • Help your child have more control over her environment by offering her choices. Stick with only two as too many are overwhelming.

  • Try ignoring behavior that is not aggressive or hurtful such as whining, arguing or bargaining. You are not being a bad parent. This method simply does not provide attention to the child when doing a negative behavior.

  • On the other hand, praise the positive behavior when it occurs. This lets your child understand that you are paying attention and respect her.

  • Children love routines. Be consistent with your child’s routine so he knows what to expect and follow through on what you say.

  • Try to avoid changes or disruptions to his schedule. Prepare your child ahead of time so that he has time to get used to the idea.

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