June 3, 2016
Humans are complicated creatures and children are no exception. This is great news for psychologists, whose profession is built on the tricky task of making sense of all the chaos! Here are a few insights, from child psychologists, for gaining the upper hand when it comes to parenting and childcare.
Children like to be in control and to make their own choices. But, given the opportunity, they often chose the least desirable option for parents and child carers. In order to avoid this, try offering children a forced choice, using two or three options—all of which are equally desirable. For example, instead of saying, “What do you want for lunch?” try giving a child two or three choices, all of which are acceptable to you. Otherwise, they’re bound to ask for pizza and chips, or something you haven’t got!
No one likes being told they can’t do something and children are no exception. In fact, negative instructions can often backfire; giving children (and many adults!) new ammunition for testing boundaries. So, if the situation allows, rather than using negative language, try telling a child what you would like them to do instead. For example, rather than saying “Stop shouting at me!” try saying “You need to whisper, otherwise I can’t understand you.”
We all like praise; and, again, children are no exception. So, when children are being good, remember to praise them for it! Praise is particularly useful in a group situation, in which some children are ignoring your instruction. Instead of reprimanding the naughty children, try praising those who are listening and behaving accordingly. With luck, the others will then follow suit in order to achieve the same level of praise—at least, that’s the theory! So, instead of shouting “Will you lot be quiet!” try saying “Well done to Emily for sitting quietly.”
Even when we try our best, we don’t always succeed and achieve the outcomes we desire. Unfortunately, in contrast to effort, success is usually influenced by factors that are beyond our control—unless you are fortunate enough to have friends in high places! Therefore, a child should be praised for their effort and commitment to a task rather than their achievement—which may not be repeated (or even accomplished in the first place) despite their best efforts. Even Usain Bolt can’t keep on winning Olympic Gold medals forever!
Every child is full of potential. However, the extent to which they fulfil their potential can be strongly influenced by the expectations of the adults they look up to (including parents, carers and teachers). Is is therefore important to encourage children as much as possible in their learning and development by exposing them to new ideas, opportunities and experiences to help them flourish. For example, a trip to a museum might seem overly intellectual for a young child, but experiences such as this can be enriching and potentially inspirational.
When handled sensitively, some psychologists suggest that a bit of healthy sibling competition can be very useful for keeping everyone on their toes. This approach could be used in almost any aspect of day-to-day family life; whether is getting them out of bed in the morning or motivating them to do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. For example: “Who’s going to finish their homework first?” (“Not me!”, I hear you all reply!!!!)
The human brain is a thing of unbelievable complexity and takes an incredible 25 years to become fully formed! Until that time, children lack the neural pathways to process complex emotional information. Therefore, instead of the rational response that you would expect from most adults, children often respond to emotionally challenging situations with with a tantrum. It’s important to remember that this type of behaviour is normal and completely beyond the control of the child. Therefore, the best response from a parent or carer is to remain calm and, most importantly, to ensure that the child comes to no harm as a result of their own irrational behaviour.
Bringing up children is never easy and, of course, every child is different. But hopefully, if the child psychologists have got it right, some of these tips will help to make a difference! Otherwise they’ve obviously still got work to do!
Rob Hodgkison, Harmony at Home Limited. All Rights Reserved, 2016