Temper tantrums, aggressive behaviours (external link) and sleep challenges are common and a normal part of healthy development for toddlers and preschoolers. However, these behaviours are challenging for parents to manage.
What can parents do?
Parents can set themselves and their child up for success by paying attention to the three areas of positive discipline; promoting positive behaviour, preventing challenging behaviour and using positive, non-hurtful strategies to deal with challenging behaviour when it happens.
Promoting positive behaviour
- Build a positive caring relationship with your child by spending quality time with them and showing them love and affection.
- Have regular and consistent routines. This helps children know what to expect and how to behave.
- Set clear limits and have a few simple rules (e.g., “Use your walking feet in the house.”).
- Provide choices where possible (e.g., “Would you like an apple or a banana?”).
- Notice when your child is behaving well and give specific praise (e.g., “You did a great job using your words.”).
- Teach your child acceptable ways to express their feelings. Help them label their emotions, “I can see you are really mad but I can’t let you hit. Hitting hurts”.
- Help your child to problem solve, “We have a problem…we have one truck and both of you want to play with the truck. What do you think we can do?”
- Model good behaviour. Your child is always watching you.
- Build in time to care for yourself and ensure that your own needs are met.
Preventing challenging behaviour
- Provide a safe place for your child to play and explore. Having interesting things to do not only helps your child develop their skills and keeps them busy, but it also reduces the likelihood that they will misbehave.
- Make sure that your child’s physical and emotional needs are met (e.g., they are not hungry, scared, tired, hurt or sick).
- Tools such as visual schedules can help children know what to do and to stay on task.
- Get to know what triggers their challenging behaviour so you can try to reduce or remove these whenever possible (e.g., transition from one activity to the next).
- Get to know what triggers you and makes it hard to deal with your child’s behaviour (e.g., conflicting advice from relatives or friends, embarrassment, the belief that your child is doing this on purpose).
- Supervise, and be prepared to step in, to prevent unacceptable behaviour before it happens.
- Redirect a young child when you notice that they are getting frustrated.
Positive approaches to challenging behaviour
When challenging behaviour happens, it is important to be consistent and to deal with the challenging behaviour right away. Choose a strategy that:
- Reflects your values
- Is age appropriate
- Is not hurtful to your child’s physical or mental health
- Shows your child the behaviour you expect
Strategies can include:
- Redirecting or distracting very young children.
- Natural consequences can be used when it is safe and appropriate (e.g., if your child breaks a toy, they cannot play with it or get a new one).
- Logical consequences (e.g., if your child refuses to share toys with a friend, the toy goes away for 1 – 30 min depending on the age of your child).
- Time in. This involves staying with your child until they are calm then choosing an age appropriate strategy to respond to their earlier behaviour.
- Quiet time (external link). Your child sits quietly on the edge of the activity for a short period of time, 1 – 5 min depending on the age of your child. The caregiver is present but gives their child no attention while in quiet time.
- Time out (external link). Involves removing your child from the activity and your attention (1 – 5 min depending on the child’s age) and putting them in an uninteresting but safe and well lit space. Time out creates a short break which can help everyone calm down.
When challenging behaviour happens:
- Remain calm. Stay close. Get down to your child’s eye level. Use their name.
- Acknowledge their feelings: “I can see you are angry because your brother took your truck”
- Remind them of the rules such as, “Keep your hands and feet to yourself. Use your words.”
- If your child doesn’t correct their behaviour and do as you ask, then choose a strategy from above that best fits the situation and is age appropriate.
Sleep challenges of toddlers and preschoolers
Sleep (external link) is important to a child’s health, well-being and ability to learn. However, for some parents, getting toddlers to close their eyes, fall sleep and stay in their own bed for the night can seem like an impossible task.
Promoting healthy sleep habits
- Create a healthy sleep routine that is simple (e.g., bath, book, breastfeed, bed).
- Put your child to bed in a wakeful state.
- Provide your child with a ‘comfort object’ such as a thin, small blanket or teddy bear.
- Let your child know what to expect. Talk about the rules ahead of time (e.g., “Mommy will kiss you goodnight. You stay in your bed, close your eyes and go to sleep. If you wake up cuddle your teddy and go back to sleep. Mommy will see you in the morning.”).
Preventing sleep challenges
- Limit screen time (external link) before bed.
- Wind down your child’s activities an hour before the time you would like them to be asleep. This let’s their brain ‘settle’ and relax.
- Avoid letting your child get overtired. This can make it harder for them to fall asleep.
- Remind your child about the rules, “After we read the book together you stay in bed, close your eyes, cuddle your teddy and go to sleep. Mommy will see you in the morning.”
- Be consistent with your child’s sleep routine. It will help your child to feel safe and know what to expect.
Dealing with sleep challenges
- If your child is used to being fed, rocked or held until they fall asleep, they may depend on that same routine to help them to fall back to sleep when they wake in the night. Getting your child to lie down and fall asleep from a wakeful state will help them fall asleep on their own throughout the night. However, changing a child’s bedtime routine can be difficult and it will take some time for them to adjust.
- If your child wakes and calls out, keep your interaction with your child brief and positive e.g. “You are okay. Mommy is down the hall. Now close your eyes and go back to sleep.”
- If your child gets out of bed take them by the hand and walk them back to their bed. Tuck them in, reassure them and remind them of your rule. “You are okay. Daddy is down the hall. Now close your eyes and go back to sleep.”
- Praise them the next day for their successes.
- Be prepared. You may have to repeat these steps a number of times, over several days, before you see a positive change in your child’s behaviour.
- Always respond to your child if they are waking because they are scared, ill, have a wet or dirty diaper or are too cold or too hot.
Sleep and behaviour challenges may happen regardless of how hard you work to prevent it. At times it can feel overwhelming. Connect with HaltonParents. We offer a variety of free parenting programs and services which can help build your confidence in dealing with your child in positive ways.