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Encouraging good behaviour in children

Mother and daughter

Promoting positive behaviour means providing a positive environment. It’s important to develop a positive, loving and secure relationship with a child to help them feel more secure and more self confident.

They benefit from a stable environment and consistency from those around them. There are some simple things you can do which will help encourage better behaviour if you’re experiencing challenges with the child in your care.

Develop a positive relationship

Let the child know you appreciate them and the things they do, says Southern Highlands Clinical Social Worker and foster carer, Linda Burgess.

If you have a positive relationship with the child it is more likely they will have the desire to do better, she says. You might offer them physical contact like a hug or give them a reassuring pat on the back. Notice and compliment what they do and take opportunities to have a conversation about what interests them.

Praise good behaviour

Rewarding behaviour you want, is better than disciplining behaviour that you don’t want. Notice and compliment what they do and take the opportunity to have a conversation about something they have done says Linda.

“Comment with a positive that includes the behaviour: ‘That was a lovely way to speak to your friend, I bet she appreciated that’. It’s important to include how you or other might feel about the behaviour. A child is likely to reject a comment like ‘you’re so good at that’ because they don’t feel good about themselves.

Be a good role model

Children learn by example. They pick up habits by absorbing the behaviour of people they see around them. “Say please and thank you to your children then it becomes a pattern of conversation for them,” says Linda.

“Respectful relationships are also important. We can’t always avoid an argument but make sure children see how you resolve an argument, this is a great practice for their future,” she said.

If you want children to clean up after play time, show them how to clean up and encourage them to do it themselves.

Say what they should do, not what they shouldn’t do

In her blog, Boston-based author and specialist in early childhood development, Kara Carrero, says its important to tell children what we want them to do, not what we do not want them to do. She says it means a shift away from using words like ‘don’t’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘stop’, ‘leave’, ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ and using positive language.

Positive language, she says, defines the world for children and helps them understand boundaries and know what we want them to do instead of opening it up to questions about why we told them to stop.

Immediate response to physical violence

Physical violence needs an immediate and consistent response, Linda Burgess says. She suggests using ‘time in’ which means having the child sit beside you and be stopped from play.

Time in, as opposed to time out means the child won’t simply go to their room and relax. They will receive a consequence for their action. Make sure they know exactly why they are having time in and make it short, says Linda, “A minute for each year of the are of the child is standard – and start again if the physical harm resumes when they re-join play.”

Focus on one or two things at a time

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pick one or two things to work on at a time. Linda says, if you have a child with many inappropriate behaviours, let something go while you sort out one or two behaviours at a time.

“Changing behaviours is difficult for everyone, but more so for a child who is learning a whole lot of new rules and a new family culture,” she says.

Speak at eye level

Depending on the child’s age, generally it is important to get down to the child’s level so you can attempt eye contact and try to make the child feel heard, says Linda.
“Starting with ‘let’s talk about what happened so we can find out what we need to do next’ or something similar is helpful,” Linda says.

Listen and Validate

Linda says being heard is important for everyone. Not just to listen, but to respond to the child so they know you have listened. “Validate what they says, even if you don’t agree,” she says.

For example say something like ‘I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time’ instead of ‘don’t be silly I’m sure you must have had some fun’.

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Last updated: 11 Apr 2019