When we added a third child to our family, I was overwhelmed by the workload of caring for three kids under the age of 5. Most days, I was so distracted by the round-the-clock feedings, diaper changes, and trying to get dinner on the table, my only goal was to make it to the end of the day. I hate to admit it, but during that season of survival, I found myself turning a blind eye to little misbehaviors from my toddlers on a regular basis. It seemed easier at the time to just pick up the blocks myself instead of engaging in a full-on toddler battle again and again. The reality is, I paid for it in the long run. Now that my third is becoming a little more independent, I am finding myself working double time trying to teach my daughters to do what they’re asked and to be kind to the other members of our family. What I’m saying is, I definitely understand the all-consuming, completely overwhelming job that is parenthood. Simply making sure your kids are safe, dressed, and fed can quickly fill up a day, but these things hardly make up the whole of parenting. Of course, there is so much more that goes into parenting, and guiding our kids on the path to being kind and responsible people is one of the most consuming tasks. With all of the day-to-day demands of caring for our kids, it’s easy to lose track of the long-term work of teaching them how to behave. It’s totally okay to let a few things slide every now and again, but there are some behaviors you simply can’t ignore. If you notice any of these six little behavior problems surface in your child, it’s time to buckle down and address them right away.
1. Telling Little White Lies
Fibbing about how many snacks they had at school or exaggerating the details of a story may seem harmless enough, but telling little white lies can become a habit. And once a habit of exaggerating the truth is created, these little untruths can grow into more harmful lies with long-term consequences. Addressing lying can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be a dramatic interaction between you and your child. Instead, the experts at Positive Parenting recommend that you start by avoiding any questions that could give your child a chance to lie. If you know they ate three cookies, don’t give them the opportunity to say differently. If your children still chooses to deny the truth, make sure they know you know exactly what took place. There’s no reason to play games in an effort to convince them to fess up. Moving forward, take a proactive approach to addressing lying. Make sure your kids know you want to hear the truth no matter what has happened. This is a good opportunity to teach your child that everyone makes mistakes, but owning up to the things we have done wrong is a big part of growing up to be mature adults.
2. Ignoring You When You’re Talking to Them
It may be typical to have trouble getting your kids to listen, but if your child is making a habit of intentionally ignoring your directions, they need to know that isn’t okay. Selective hearing starts early. It may not seem all that emergent when your toddler has to be told five times to stop picking their nose or your preschooler has to be reminded a half dozen times to get dressed for school. But when you ignore this behavior, you’re sending a message that you’re not really in charge. It is reasonable to expect your child to listen and obey most of the time. If that isn’t happening in your home, we’ve got a few ideas that may help you out. First, we suggest you stop repeating yourself altogether. Make eye contact with your child before giving them directions and then give them one chance to hear what you have to say. If they decide to ignore you, impose the appropriate consequences. Whenever possible, make these consequences match the crime. A young child who didn’t put her shoes on may have to sit on the porch while her siblings play, since it would hurt her feet to be barefoot. An older child who had to be reminded to complete their chores may need to stay home from an activity to make time for them to finish the uncompleted tasks.
3. Intentionally Hurting Others
If you are going to draw a line in the sand over any misbehavior, it should be intentionally hurting others. Young kids start testing boundaries early. For many kids, hitting, kicking, or biting are simply ways to express their anger. As their parent, it is your job to teach them appropriate methods for expressing what they feel, making sure they understand it is never okay to inflict harm on another person. Curtailing a hitting habit requires regular intervention when your child is upset, according to parenting expert Dr. Bill Sears. On Ask Dr. Sears, he suggests that parents begin by gaining an understanding of why their child is upset and help them out by providing the words to match how they feel. For young kids, gently stop them from hitting or biting and remove them from the situation, telling them they are not allowed to hurt others. To proactively address hitting, Dr. Sears also recommends parents model nonaggression and healthy expression of anger in front of their children.
4. Having an Attitude
It doesn’t take long for a new talker to learn the word “no!” and start using it on their parents. It may be cute to watch a little one toddle around barking orders at anyone in earshot, but a tiny attitude can quickly morph into a monstrous habit of disrespect. You won’t regret making the time to teach your child to curb their ‘tude. For many little ones, disrespect is connected to experiencing strong emotions and feeling ill equipped to express and manage those emotions. Talking about feelings openly with your kids is an effective way to begin to teach them the emotional intelligence they will need as they grow up, according to Zero to Three. When your child responds with an attitude, empathize with their emotions and help them find the vocabulary they need to get their feelings out there. Try this: “Wow, you seem angry because I asked you to clean up after yourself. Let’s take a few deep breaths together and then you can do what I asked.”
5. Running Away From Others
In our house, this little misbehavior most frequently shows up at bedtime. Mommy and Daddy are exhausted. Our little ones can sense our complacency and take off running when we try to get them ready for bed. It’s so tempting to just ignore it, especially if you want to avoid a bedtime meltdown. But running away can turn into a safety problem. When you are in public, it is so important that your kids stay nearby to avoid getting hurt in parking lots or lost in the store. For very young kids, respectful-parenting expert Janet Lansbury suggests parents begin with prevention. Simply don’t give your child the opportunity to run away. Secure them in a stroller or hold their hand in public. If your child gets away from you anyway, Lansbury suggests parents not give this boundary-testing behavior much power. Instead, calmly take hold of your child and let them know you’re there to help them listen so they can stay safe.
6. Interrupting Others When They’re Talking
Most kids aren’t trying to misbehave when they start interrupting others when they’re talking, but this can turn into a rude habit they carry into adulthood. If your child is having trouble controlling their excitement and regularly butting in on conversations, it is important to teach them the patience they need to wait their turn. One popular method to help kids learn not to interrupt is teaching them to put their hand on your shoulder or thigh when they have something to say. Acknowledge your child’s presence by touching their hand, but continue your conversation until you are finished. Once you are through, turn to your child and give them your full attention while they talk. It may take time, but consistently using this little trick will pay off in the long run.