Occasional negative behavior is obviously normal for most young children, however when negative behavior becomes consistent in children this is their way of communicating an unmet need.
One important area of focus in this regard then is the child’s daily routine. This could be a Daycare, Kindergarten or Preschool routine or it could be a home routine. This article focuses on the home routine.
The “Home Routine” is the general order of routine activities that your child goes through as their day progresses. It includes activities both inside and outside the home. There may be main activities such as lunch and naptime, which rarely change, plus other events, such as toileting for example, which change over time. This routine is one of the main ways that your child’s daily needs are met.
If you think that your child’s home routine may be linked to a negative behavioral problem its worth a quick analysis to see what’s missing. Are there any long periods of time where your child has to wait, entertain themselves or have nothing to do? If they are left completely to themselves this is where negative activities can be chosen over boredom. Your child’s home routine needs to flow, not stall. Kids like to be engaged in a balanced way. Restless and frustrated kids need to use up their energy somehow and if they are not directed they will use their creativity to entertain themselves. Negative behavior can be the end result.
Following then are some tips about your child’s home routine that may be the cause of negative behavior.
· Are parts of the your child’s home routine too short? Do they allow your child to fully immerse themselves in any one activity? Our Joy of doing something comes from the experience of concentration. If you take this away too soon, by repeatedly redirecting them to another activity or event before they have had time for a sense of completion, then this is going to have a detrimental effect.
· Are there too many or not enough toys? Too many toys can lead to indecision and dissatisfaction. (Try rotating them in boxes) Not enough toys can lead to wanting. Either way negative behavior in your child can be the result.
· Are toys, materials or equipment enhancing creativity? Kids need to be constantly challenged and stimulated. Preferably choose toys that allow maximum creativity during their play period. Building construction blocks, modeling or paper clay, paints and a variety of stimulating craft materials such as corrugated cardboard, coloured beads, and natural items from the park all help to challenge a young mind in various ways. Older children may be super keen to use the computer tablet in your house. Regulate their time and stick to apps that require their input or better still games that require problem solving and design /development skills (Minecraft for example, if your child is in elementary school)
· Is there a lack of daily outdoor activities? If your child repeatedly spends time indoors all day this can lead to negative behavior. You need to make part of your child’s daily routine outdoors for at least an hour each day. (Minus the occasional rainy day) It's a proven fact that lack of outdoor experience leads to negative behavioral problems in children. Its been shown that outdoor experience lowers anxiety and boosts self confidence. It even leads to improved language retention.
· Are you flexible with your child’s routine? As the supervising parent you need to be flexible with your child’s home routine. Cut a routine activity short if your child looses interest, extend it if they are having fun.
· Is your child’s environment consistently messy? Perhaps its your house (heaven forbid) or in particular your child’s bedroom. (I know I have this problem!) Mess can cause confusion and frustration and lead to dissatisfaction and negative behavior. Assist your child in cleaning up regularly, it keeps everyone happier.
· Does you child’s home routine change much? While I’m not suggesting that you be a “Super Mum” by micromanaging every single minute of your child’s home routine, your child will appreciate a certain amount of variety throughout her week. This may mean that as the supervising parent you should put in some degree of forward planning and organization. Take a balanced approach in the number of activities and be consistent. Leave some time for free play to as too many activities may stress your child and also lead to negative behavior.
· Watch the transitions. A transition is the period of time it takes to switch between activities. If your child is trying to communicate an unmet need it is often during a transition that negative behavior will occur. Moody children often dislike transitions therefore transitions usually require that you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Modern mums will always be tempted to use their smartphones during transitions but here are a few other ideas to fill this gap. 1) On the train? Have a little book ready to read to them rather than have them jump all over the seats. 2) Waiting at the doctors? Tell them a family story that your parents told you when you were a kid. 3) Is your child too tired to walk? Pep them up with a sweet or two. 4) Having a few hand games at the ready can also redirect a moody child. While these ideas aren’t exactly breaking news they do highlight that the more prepared you are the easier the transition will be.
Of course it goes without saying that as your child grows their routine will need to be adjusted gradually to suit their developmental milestones.
Its important to remember that repeated negative behavior is your child telling you that they need something. Try to find out what that something is. Perhaps they need to feel more in control or perhaps its more attention that they need. It maybe that they need more certainty or affection or to feel safe. Its up to you to find out what their need is and aim to fulfill it so that their negative behavior will cease.