Sydney clinical psychologist Dr Anna Cohen has a new book Parenting Made Easy: The Early Years to help guide you through what can be your toughest test.
Children aren’t perfect, nor are parents, but you can work to develop considerate behaviour from your children and what is grounds for concern, says Dr Cohen, from Kids & Co.
To help you get the best out of those milestone years, here’s an exclusive edited extract from her new book.
MANAGING PARENTING CHALLENGES – CONSEQUENCES
While development comes naturally to children, understanding behavioural expectations does not. Preschool- aged children are more able to develop an internalised ethic and to understand boundaries and expectations when they are consistent, clear and fair. As parents, we sometimes ask our children questions such as ‘Why do you never listen to me?’ This is often said as part of an attempt to understand why children act in certain ways, especially when their behaviour is challenging. It can sound like an accusation, inadvertently creating greater hostility in the relationship between parent and child. This sort of situation often comes about when a parent feels frustrated or angry and wants to ensure their child knows how bad they are feeling. This is a negative and unhelpful approach, which at worst can become abusive as anger and frustration increase.
‘Why’ questions are problematic. Children can rarely provide an answer and they may even respond by getting upset. This response does not ease the situation and often just intensifies your feelings. It also creates a situation where the child feels as though whatever they say or do will be interpreted as inadequate or wrong. A more effective way of addressing behaviours that you are not happy with is by using consequences.
Consequences are about teaching children how to change and regulate their own behaviour; such as, ‘When you are ready to be quiet in the car, I will continue to drive us to… [this is most powerful if you are going somewhere the child is interested in going]’. Consequences that limit parental attention and those that have a natural consequence to the behaviour are powerful for children in the early years. For example, throwing the toy out the window means it is gone, or playing roughly with a toy means it breaks. As children start to develop an understanding of cause and effect, time, and the relationship between their actions and consequences, they respond to consequences that have a deterrent value such as — no dessert, no play date or not being allowed to go to a birthday party.
Change in behaviour will not occur overnight, but if you remain firm, patient and consistent, you can avoid out-of- control arguments and damaging power struggles with your child. Below is a step-by-step guide for how to effectively use logical consequences.
Give your instruction in an effective way.
If your instruction is ignored, follow through with a logical consequence even if it is inconvenient. It is important that the logical consequence matches the behavioural error; for example, ‘Stop screaming or we will leave’.
Explain the consequence and do not argue the point.
Once the instruction has been followed, discuss with your child what should occur next time.
Repeat the logical consequence if the behaviour recurs and follow up with some Quiet Time if required.
The main aim of logical consequences is to teach children how to make good choices through experience. Consequences need to be kept consistent, fair, brief and realistic so that you can follow through with them, and your child can both learn and practise the correct behaviour.
Parenting Made Easy: The Early Years By Dr Anna Cohen (Australian Academic Press, $29.95) is available now through aapbooks.com.