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  • Writer's pictureDr Martine Prunty


Updated: Oct 8, 2021

Children, particularly young children, can be unpredictable and chronically inflexible. This can leave parents feeling out of their depth and at a loss as to how to get basic activities done in a timely manner. These 10 rules are a good way for mums and dads to stay focused and on the same page as each other in shaping child behaviour.


This is a great way to “accentuate the positive”. Using a reward chart for specific behaviours helps you all have a daily visual reminder which can enhance motivation. The best results for young children are praise and attention so don’t assume you need to buy a toy every time your child does something you want them to do more of. Other ideas for rewards are special 1:1 time with a parent or a special outing or activity. Another key reminder is always to vary your rewards so they maintain their appeal.


Try to make sure that all caregivers use the same strategy so there is consistency. This helps children learn at a much faster rate. When consequences vary, children are more willing to “risk” that they will get away with acting out. However if they know that behaving in a certain way will result in a particular consequence 100% of the time, that behaviour is more likely to be extinguished.


Kids thrive on routine because they come to learn quickly what to expect and what is expected of them. A home with no routine can become chaotic very quickly, leaving both parents and children feeling fatigued and out of control. Try to keep things like bedtime, bath time and meal times consistent so that your children are more able to regulate their emotions and cope better when unexpected things happen that are out of your hands.


Parents need to agree when placing limits on behaviours they are willing to accept and not accept. These rules need to be made clear so that as your young children grow and their cognitive abilities develop they learn to know the rules and that there are limits to their behaviour.


This is the way that you enforce your rules and limits. In order to feel like a parent in control you must be firm and fair. Remember that your use of discipline is one way to teach your child how to behave and it will evolve as your children grow older. Try to use logical consequences where you can to help your children understand cause and effect. For example, if your child refuses to eat the meal you have prepared, then they go hungry for that meal.


Warnings are a good strategy to prepare your child for what is going to happen next. They can be used to wrap up a play-date, for example, “we are going home soon so you have 10 more minutes of play time”. They can also be used to warn a child that a consequence will occur if a particular behaviour continues.


It is frustrating that you cannot reason with young children. Keep it simple, state the obvious and use visual cues to try and show children what you mean. Be clear and use basic explanations, for example, “don’t touch, it’s hot, ouch!”


Children learn how to cope with stress and uncertainty via the people they spend time with the most. You. Remember that you are a model for your children so try and remain calm, positive and flexible, particularly in heated moments. Remove yourself to another room for a few minutes if you think you might really lose your cool.


Behaviour management is an opportunity for children to learn skills and grow up. Allow them to participate in age-appropriate tasks to give them a sense of responsibility and to feel like a valued member of your family. This boosts their self-confidence as they learn important life and social skills.


We all need time to relax and unwind. Try to spend quiet time with your children engaging in enjoyable activities together, such as reading quiet play. Too much activity leads to overstimulation and difficulty regulating emotions and behaviour. It’s important that you as parents are able to have some time to rest and recover so that you have the resources to be the best parents you can be.

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