Teaching Good Behaviour

Sometimes we can be frustrated with our child’s behaviour, wondering why they can’t do what we expect them to do. Here in this extract from the Parents Plus Early Years Parenting Programme the authors John Sharry, Grainne Hampson and Mary Fanning help us to see that maybe our children aren’t actually misbehaving, they just haven’t learned the skills they need to behave the way we would like.

You can also find more resources from Parents Plus on https://www.parentsplus.ie/parents/

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The many meanings of No

We can all get into the habit of saying No especially when we are tired or stressed but there are many times when better communication on our part helps our child understand and cooperate better. Here is a piece from The Growing Child newsletter distributed by Lifestart.

The many meanings of No

I just remembered a family story.
My sister-in-law overheard her young granddaughter asking her mother for a particular privilege. “We’ll see,” said her mother. Glumly the child turned away. “That means no,” she said, with resignation.

Kids and adults alike seem to spend a lot of time interpreting all the messages surrounding the word “No”. Said by a weary mother, it may signify that she can’t deal with another request at this point, not that the idea itself is unreasonable. When a distracted father says, “No”, he may mean that he doesn’t want to get involved right now, but go ask your mother—a way of passing the buck.

When another parent says “No”, it may mean that she is showing the child who is boss, exerting power for the sake of having the power—plus subconsciously enjoying being begged to then yield. And when a child hears “No”, it usually means a frustrating of their impulses and wishes that produces anger.

Many parents, I believe, worry about saying “No” to their children lest this anger from kids mean that parental popularity poll numbers will fall. They seem to think that “No” will convey a meaning of “I don’t love you”, instead of just meaning “No”.

No should just mean No. Since “No” is clearly a powerful word, parents should consider carefully the ways and means of using it. First and unapologetically, No’s are necessary in order to produce children who can respect limits and understand something about how to live in this world. Obviously saying “No” alone doesn’t do all that. Along with the prohibition must come some information about why it’s a “No” whether the reason is safety, family values and circumstances, developmental stage, or timing. (If there is no reason you can explain easily, then maybe you should consider whether the “No” is necessary.)

Because that’s another thing about No’s : such powerful words should be used judiciously and sparingly. I think some kids are quite justified in their frustration, if they are surrounded with No’s at every turn. Instead of a shower of No’s , parents should consider redirection— “You could throw the ball outside, instead of inside.” or “That road is unsafe for riding. How about you stay in the cul-de-sac?”

Parents could turn the question back to the child for reconsideration—“I can’t let you eat candy now. Can you think of something else you could choose for snack?” They could state a contingency— “I’m not free to drive you there now, but if you help me put the laundry away while I finish this email, you can go then.”And even when it’s a “No”, it is a clear, firm limit—“No”, I can’t let you go to her house today, I’m sorry.”

When you do have to say “No” be sure that your delivery indicates a solid limit, with a serious though kind face, a calm tone and authoritative body language. Any wishy-washiness on your part gives kids an invitation to wheedle and beg.



The GROWING TOGETHER NEWSLETTER is issued by; GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of:
2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd.,
Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363. Fax: 028 71365334.
E-mail: headoffice@lifestartfoundation.org
Web Site: www.lifestartfoundation.org

Active Listening

Active listening is a good way to improve your communication with your child. It lets your child know you are interested in what she has to say.

To practice active listening:
  • give your full attention to your child
  • make eye contact and stop other things you are doing
  • get down on your child’s level
  • and reflect or repeat back what she is saying and what she may be feeling to make sure you understand

It can be tempting to brush off our children’s problems, especially if we have had a bad day or if we are busy. But our children need to know that we are going to listen to them. This will make it more likely our children will talk with us about their hopes and problems when they are older. Here is an example.

Active Listening Example 1

Your child’s football game is at 6:00. You only have a short time to make dinner, help with homework, and get everyone ready for the game. While the kids play, you quickly start making dinner. Soon, you hear your son crying. He comes and tells you that his brother hit him and called him a bad name. You are tempted to keep making dinner while nodding your head at what your child is saying, but then you decide to show him you are actively listening. You stop what you are doing, turn to him, make eye contact, and summarize what he has told you and how he seems to be feeling. You say, “It sounds like your brother made you feel sad when he hit you and said mean things.” By doing this, you have let your child know that he has your full attention. He knows that his emotions and feelings are important to you.

Sometimes a child who is upset may not be able to name the emotion she is feeling. Active listening can be a great way to help her. Here is an example:

Active Listening Example 2

You pick up your daughter from preschool. She is crying and tells you that her friend took her favourite toy and stuck out his tongue at her. You show her that you are actively listening when you say, “It seems like you are sad about your friend taking your favourite toy.” Your daughter continues to cry and nods her head. She says that she thinks her friend will break the toy. You show her that you are still actively listening by saying, “So you are scared that your friend might break your toy.” At this time, your daughter calms down a bit. You and your daughter continue to talk, and she knows that it is okay to be upset. She has begun to learn how to label and cope with her feelings by talking to someone.

Using Reflections to Show You’re Listening

Reflection is one way for you to show you are actively listening to your child. You can do this by repeating back what your child has said or by labelling and summing up how you think he feels.

Reflections of Words

When you reflect your child’s words, you are giving attention to him for his use of words. This increases the chance that your child will talk more because he wants your attention. You don’t have to repeat exactly what your child said but what you say is usually very similar. You can add detail, shorten, or correct what your child has said. Here is an example:

Reflection Example

Child: “I drawed some sghetti.”

Parent Response: “You drew some long spaghetti.”

In this example, the parent corrects the grammar, pronounces “spaghetti” for the child, and adds detail by describing the spaghetti as “long”.

Reflection of Emotions

When you reflect your child’s emotions, you watch your child’s behaviour and describe the emotions he seems to be having. This gives your child a word for the emotion and helps him learn that it is ok to talk about feelings. Reflection of emotions is not always easy. Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Take a guess even if you are unsure.

There may be times when you are unsure what your child is feeling. For example, your child may be crying but you may not know if he is angry, scared, or sad. Let him know that you are paying attention by saying, “It seems like you are upset or “It sounds/looks like something is bothering you”. Your child may not know himself what he is feeling and by talking you can figure it out together.

  • Words aren’t needed all the time.

You can let your child know you are paying attention to how she feels by what you do even if you don’t say anything. You can just sit with your child while she is upset or stay physically close and hold or comfort her.

  • You don’t always have to agree.

Sometimes it is difficult to summarize or label your child’s feelings because you think he should be responding in a different way. Telling your child to stop feeling a particular way does not show your child you are trying to understand how he feels. Help him deal with and understand his feelings, by talking with your child about his feelings.

  • Talk about other feelings.

Children may have several emotions at the same time. For example, your child might feel sad and afraid at the same time. Show your child you care about what she is showing on the outside and may be feeling on the inside by talking about all the feelings.

  • Don’t worry about getting it wrong.

Sometimes when parents are learning active listening skills, they worry that they will incorrectly summarize and label their child’s feelings. You should not worry. Children usually correct their parents if their feelings are described incorrectly. If your child corrects you, try again. Reflect what he has said to you, and expand on it to give him more words and to learn ways to describe his feelings.

Have questions? Need tips? Want to practice?

Check out Quick Tips https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/quicktips.html and Answers from Experts  https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/answersfromexperts.html for more info about active listening!

Click through the links below to watch videos and practice your skills for communicating with your child.

Watch Videos

Practice Skills

This material has been adapted from the Parenting section of the Center for Disease Control website https://www.cdc.gov/parents/index.html

Dealing with misbehaviour

More than a few parents have expressed their feelings about their child by saying “I wish I knew what to do about my child’s behaviour.”

It would be nice to have a simple solution—like a magic wand—for parents to use when they feel frustrated by their child’s misbehaviour. Unfortunately, the reasons why children misbehave are too complicated for a simple solution.

We become aware of this complexity when we try to change the way a parent and child interact. For example, most of us can appreciate how hard it is sometimes for a parent to control his or her temper after a child has misbehaved. Even a simple analysis of such a negative interaction between parent and child would have to consider the characteristics of the parent, the child, and the specific situation in which the interaction occurred. To make matters more complicated, each of these characteristics change from year to year, from week to week, and even from one time of day to another.

It is also important to bear in mind that:
(1) What works for one parent in disciplining a child may not work for another parent with the same child.
(2) What proves to be an effective discipline strategy with one child may be ineffective or inappropriate for another child in the same family.
(3) An approach that has worked well in one situation may not bring about the same desired result with the same child in a different situation.

It helps parents to feel better about their children’s misbehaviour when they remember that it is normal for young children to misbehave occasionally. It is also normal for parents to make mistakes and to lose their temper from time to time. If you are thinking that you must be the only parent who can’t handle misbehaviour, then it is time to relax and realize you are not alone.

Don’t be too hard on yourself— try to take a good look at the situation. If you feel an extreme sense of “aloneness” in dealing with your child’s misbehaviour problems, you might consider joining a parent support group or parent education class in your area. Sharing concerns with a good friend or listening to the problems other parents are having can help remove that sense of aloneness.
There is more than one approach to dealing with discipline problems, and your local library can help you find books and articles that discuss various methods.

By becoming familiar with a variety of strategies for dealing with misbehaviour, parents will be able to choose the approach best suited to the child, the parent, and the specific situation in which the misbehaviour occurred.


Dealing with misbehaviour – using the ‘when/then’ rule

Most parents would agree that they get tired of saying “no” to their children. Some days it seems like all they say is “no.” Sometimes it seems like children know that if they keep asking, eventually
parents will get tired of saying “no” and change to “Oh, I suppose so,” just to end the confrontation.
Here’s an alternative, and you can use it as a rule. If you’ve been trying to get your child to pick up his toys, and he wants to watch a video instead, for example, the rule works like this: “When you’ve
picked up your toys, then you can watch the video.” Here’s another example: “When you’ve picked up your clothes, then you can go play with Jim.”

Be sure to keep the sequence in the right order because younger children may misunderstand if the statement is backwards. Children can understand how ‘when/then’ statements work, and this kind of training helps them learn to take responsibility for their own actions. And parents can avoid repeating the word “no.”

GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of:
2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd.,
Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363. Fax: 028 71365334.
E-mail: headoffice@lifestartfoundation.org
Web Site: www.lifestartfoundation.org

Parenting programmes in Donegal

If you would like to develop your positive parenting skills sign up for a Parents Plus parenting course with Parent Hub Donegal. Early Years is for parents of 1-5 year olds, Children’s programme is for parents of 6-11 year olds and Adolescent programme is for parents of 11 – 16 year olds. If you have split from your partner but would like to cooperate on how you parent your children you could consider the Parenting When Separated programme. Just click the link https://forms.gle/RghfGcZ3QmD2R7raA  and sign up today and we will be in touch when there is a suitable programme in your area.

Being a good parent – nobody ever said it would be easy!

Nobody ever said that parenting would be easy. Being a good parent is even more difficult! Here are five guidelines to help you put into practice some principles of good parenting that you probably already know but for which you may need an occasional reminder:

1. Be consistent in your enforcement of rules.

Be certain that your rules have these characteristics: They must be clearly defined, reasonable and enforceable. Rules in the home help children feel more secure and comfortable when they are faced later in life with rules in school and community.
A seven-year study done by the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that self-confident children who succeeded in their undertakings usually came from homes in which there were rules that were reasonable, consistent, and enforced with affection.

2. Permit children to make mistakes and even fail sometimes.

Children learn by doing. rather than by passively absorbing the experiences of others. Making mistakes is one basis for future independence, self-direction, and intelligent decisionmaking.
When children know that they can anticipate consequences, they are being helped to develop an understanding of cause-effect relationships.

3. Resist the temptation to over-organise.

Don’t over-structure a child’s whole day with lessons, sports, and other activities. Children
need time to be leisurely and to enjoy unstructured play.

4. Maintain a sense of humour.

When something interferes with the daily routine, try to see a funny side of the situation.
For example, when there are toys, clothes, or other things left about randomly, gather them into a locked box and charge a “fee” (such as a kiss on your cheek) for later retrieval of an item.
If the bathroom becomes a mess, then draw a sad face on the mirror. Ah, but when things look improved, don’t forget to reinforce with a happy smile!

5. Take care of yourself.

It’s important for parents to take care of their own health and psychological needs. A parent who is over-worked or over-stressed will less likely be able to implement these recommendations. Thus, taking care of oneself— with adequate rest, leisure time, and proper nutrition—is also an important
part of being a good parent.

GROWING CHILD Inc., and is distributed free, courtesy of:
2, Springrowth House, Balliniska Rd.,
Springtown Ind. Estate, L’Derry BT48 OGG
Tel: 028 71365363. Fax: 028 71365334.
E-mail: headoffice@lifestartfoundation.org
Web Site: www.lifestartfoundation.org

Promoting Positive Behaviour – Ages and Stages Chart

  What behaviour should we expect from our little ones at the different ages and stages of their development? Each child is a little individual but here are some general guidelines that may help you to promote positive behaviour as your child grows.

Age Normal behaviour What parents can do
Under 1 year of age
 Cries to make needs known.

·Gets into everything.

·Learns by touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.

·Let your baby learn to self-soothe. Comforting your baby when he is sick, hurt or upset―rather than ignoring or brushing off the feeling―will help him learn how to do this.

·Say no when your baby does something you don’t want him to, like biting you.

Don’t use techniques such as time-out or consequences.

Young toddler
1 to 2 years
·Is starting to test limits as she explores her independence.

·May be fearful when separating from you.

Will learn to say no.

·Curious and wants to explore.

·Too young to remember rules.

Create a safe environment that your child can explore.

Give your child attention when she is being good

·Use redirection, with a brief  explanation (“No—hot.”).

Older toddler
2 to 3 years
·Is becoming more independent.

·Becomes frustrated when you set limits, and will show it.

·Becomes very possessive, doesn’t understand the concept of “mine” versus “someone else’s.”

·Is easily distracted.

·Some frustration is good  because it helps your child  start to learn how to  problem-solve. But,  remember, there are  situations your child won’t be able to handle.

·Give choices when you can – “Which coat, blue or red?”.

Explain briefly why the  behaviour is unacceptable.

3 to 5 years
·Should be able to better accept  limits, but won’t always make good decisions.

·Tries to please and wants to  feel important.

·Can follow simple instructions.

·Can make choices.

·Asks a lot of questions.


Tries to tell other children what  to do.

·May tell on others.

 Needs clear and consistent  rules.

Set an example through your own actions.

Small and appropriate  consequences also work.

·Approval and praise will  encourage your child to do  good things.

·Long lectures do not work.



©Lifestart Foundation 2018











Key messages to promote positive behaviour in our children

Promoting Positive Behaviour – Key Messages about Managing Your Child’s Behaviour

How you react as a parent is normally connected to how your child is behaving. If you are aware of how you are feeling it will help you to be more aware of what is causing your child’s behaviour.

  1. Be Consistent – Both parents need to agree on acceptable behaviour otherwise your child will get mixed messages. Don’t make threats you won’t carry out as your child will just learn to ignore you. The most difficult time for parents to be consistent is when they are tired or in a hurry. It is important for parents to be aware of their own energy and mood when it comes to managing their child’s behaviour.
  2. Be Clear: Make sure that your child is paying attention when you are telling them something. Once you have the child’s attention you have to be specific about what you want them to do. “Watch what you are doing” is not clear enough. “I want you to keep your car on the floor and not on the table” is easier for a child to follow.
  3. Be Positive: Positive requests like “Walk to the table” are better than negative ones “Don’t run to the table”.
  4. Reward Positive Behaviour: A child has a basic need for attention & inappropriate behaviour is often a child’s way of getting the attention they need. By acknowledging and rewarding good behaviour the child gets what they need. Rewards like a kiss or a hug or saying “well done” should be given right away so that the child links the behaviour to the attention they are receiving.

©Lifestart Foundation 2018

Promoting positive behaviour in strong-minded toddlers

Promoting Positive Behaviour in toddlers and young children 

  1. Be aware that challenging behaviour is perfectly normal and healthy in your child during the second year.
  2. Try to understand the reason for the behaviour, namely, that your child is probably “testing the limits” in her search for her own individuality and independence.
  3. Be aware that if your only technique for dealing with negative behaviour is “head-on” confrontation, you are actually offering yourself to the child as a role model for more negative behaviour.
  4. Directing your child’s atten­tion to some positive activity will be more effective than scolding.
  5. Realise the consequences of either extreme. Always giving in will create a spoiled child, while always putting your toddler down will result in a poor self-concept – and a crushed ego.
  6. Giving-in occasionally to your child does not mean giving up your control. Sometimes it’s a responsible choice in the interest of the self-concept and sense of individuality of your child.
  7. Parents who remain calm but firm are not only best for the child but it is also in the best interest of the parent’s own mental well-being.

Promoting Positive Behaviour – Ages and Stages

Infant – under 1 year

Normal behaviour:- cries to make needs known, gets into everything. Learns by touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.

What parents can do:- Let your baby learn to self-soothe. Comforting your baby when he is sick, hurt or upset – rather than ignoring or brushing off the feeling – will help him learn how to do this. Say ‘no’ when your baby does something you don’t want him to, like biting you. Don’t use techniques such as time-out or consequences.

Young toddler 1-2 years

Normal behaviour:- Is starting to test limits as she explores her independence. May be fearful when separating from you. Will learn to say ‘no’. Curious and wants to explore. Too young to remember rules.

What parents can do:- Create a safe environment that your child can explore. Give your child attention when she is being good. Use redirection, with a brief explanation (‘No – hot’)

Older toddler 2 – 3 years

Normal behaviour:- Is becoming more independent. Becomes frustrated when you set limits, and will show it. Becomes very possessive, doesn’t understand the concept of “mine” versus “someone else’s”. Is easily distracted.

What parents can do:- Some frustration is good because it helps your child to start to learn how to problem-solve. But, remember, there are situations your child won’t be able to handle. Give choices when you can. Explain briefly why a behaviour is unacceptable.

Preschooler 3 – 5 years

Normal behaviour:- Should be able to accept better limits, but won’t always make good decisions. Tries to please and wants to feel important. Can follow simple instructions. Can make choices. Asks a lot of questions. Independent. Tries to tell other children what to do. May tell on others.

What parents can do:- Need to provide clear and consistent rules. Set an example through your own actions. Small and appropriate consequences also work. Approval and praise will encourage your child to do good things. Long lectures do not work.

©Lifestart Foundation 2018

Promoting positive behaviour through constructive criticism

Promoting Positive Behaviour through constructive criticism

Unless children are doing something that poses a high risk of disastrous results, sometimes it’s best to let them figure things out on their own and learn through the experience rather than telling them step-by-step what they should or shouldn’t have done or could have done better. Experience is sometimes the best teacher. “Constructive criticism” should be encouraging, helpful, and timely – not negative. When offering children constructive criticism about their work, behaviors, or attempts at doing things on their own, think about the following:

  1. Even though a parent may be frustrated with a child’s behaviour, they should not use belittling language, an angry or frustrated tone of voice, or making fun of a child’s honest mistakes.
  2. When there is a need to critique, be ready to teach. A parent should have a child’s undivided attention before voicing their concerns. Direct constructive criticisms toward the behaviour or mistake, not the child. Parents should set the example of what they want their children to learn by taking the time to show them. Ask “May I tell/show you what usually works for me?” “Let me show you what helps me…” Offer the child an opportunity to correct his/ her mistake whether it’s repeating a chore that wasn’t done properly or correcting an inappropriate or incorrect behavior.
  3. Never make one-sided, hurtful comments; be ready to address specific actions or behaviors with a lesson or helpful and thoughtful suggestion. Using positive words yields positive results. “You really do __________ well. Next time, you might also try…” “This way helped me a lot when I was learning to…”
  4. Never use name-calling or label, even in jest, as it is really hurtful for a child and will affect their self-esteem. Never openly criticize children in front of others. It’s hard enough to accept criticism, even constructive criticism, when there is an audience present.
  5. Take advantage of teachable moments by offering help and constructive criticism – unless it really just isn’t the time or place to do so. Timing is everything; a parent should not wait until the child has forgotten the incident or mistake. A parent needs to make it clear to a child that they are offering suggestions and constructive criticism so he/she can do better next time. Don’t dwell on a child’s past mistakes. Constructive criticism is for the future, not the past.
  6. Parents should use a voice that has the tone of a helpful attitude. A knee-jerk reaction of screaming and yelling or using other derogatory remarks deflates self-esteem and falls on deaf ears. If a child hears an angry voice, that’s all he/she will hear. Our goal as parents is to give constructive criticism as painlessly and tactfully as possible so the child will receive it properly and learn from it.
  7. Remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. When children realize their own mistakes, they are less likely to repeat them. There is nothing to gain by pointing out and dwelling on their mistakes when it’s obvious they learned something from them.

©Lifestart Foundation 2018