‘Because I said so!’
How to manage your child's behavior, and how not to!
Juice Staff Published: 4/17/2018
When you first enter parenthood, you think you have all the answers. It only takes one fitful night with a newborn to realize you had no idea. And once you do get a hang of one phase, time insists on marching onward and upward and on grows your newborn—now a toddler with a whole new set of challenges you have no idea how to handle.
Where once a newborn lay, a preschooler now runs, with his or her own ideas and identity and opinions. Parents across the country find themselves butting heads with their once-so-complacent child and asking themselves, “Is this bad behavior?”
“Parents often have a misperception in terms of managing a child’s behavior,” said Dr. Patterson. “There are two things to remember. One, nobody does something for no reason, and there’s always a purpose, whether they are conscious of it or not. And two, nobody does anything in a vacuum; it’s a learned behavior.”
Take this common scene, for example. It’s nearing lunchtime and you need your child to transition from playing to the table. You tell your toddler that it’s time for lunch, but they continue to play with their toys. Frustrated, you ask your child to please be good, but they still refuse. Are they ignoring you? Are they being purposefully willful? Should you just let them continue to play for a few more minutes and then eat lunch? Should you bargain with your toddler?
“Something that parents often say is that their child should listen to them ‘because I say so.’ A child is more likely to do something when they are given clear expectations,” Dr. Patterson explained.
The above scene could easily turn into a tantrum or a power struggle if not handled the correct way. “The pitfall is that you want them to do something, but they don’t know what it is,” said Dr. Patterson. “You need to be specific. When you say ‘Be good,’ that can mean anything. Label your expectations in specific terms: ‘Please put down your toy and come to the table,’ for example.”
Bargaining isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Once you have defined expectations, you can give your child options. For example, “It’s time for lunch. Do you want to eat in the kitchen or the dining room? Once we finish, we can come back to play time.” You have given your child a choice about where to eat, and let him or her know play can continue after lunch.
Paying attention to your own reaction during these trials is also important. Do you find yourself getting worked up and angry? Keeping yourself calm and in control will help to keep your child calm and in control. Tantrums and power struggles are par for the parenting course, but given the right tools, they don’t have to end in hurt feelings or relationships.