Guiding Children's Behaviour

Most parents want their children to be calm, co-operative and treat others with respect. These behaviours can be at odds with the nature of young children. However there are some things that parents can do to guide their children in the behaviours they would like to see.

In the first 12 months of life, children are dependent on their caregivers. Flexible routines are developed around children’s body clocks. Children are comforted with warm cuddles, the parent’s voice and encouraging facial expressions. As children become more mobile, distraction can be helpful to keep children calm.

As babies become toddlers, they display curiosity about the things they see and often want things immediately. Predictable routines are more likely to help children behave calmly. Consistency from parents is important. Distraction is useful in taking children’s attention away from things parents don’t want them to have or do. Parents can encourage wanted behaviours by using animated facial expressions and encouragement. Tone of voice becomes important for discouraging unwanted behaviours, such as a firm “no” along with a serious facial expression, particularly in dangerous situations.

For children aged 2-3 years, not co-operating with parents is a game that children find very funny and parental consistency can be helpful to encourage co-operation. Modelling the desired behaviour can be useful when followed by encouragement when the child’s behaviour is positive. Distraction continues to be useful. At this stage, quiet sitting might be introduced, to provide a pause in unwanted behaviours. This is more effective when followed by encouraging wanted behaviours. At times, planned ignoring may be useful to prevent children repeating behaviours that demand parents’ attention. 

Between 4-5 years, children are more independent and are capable of making decisions about their preferences in play, foods and friends. Distraction is less helpful in this developmental stage. Modelling and encouragement continue to be useful as are consistent routines and parents following through with what they say. Planned quiet sitting may be appropriate at times. Use of logical consequences can be introduced where, for example, an item the child is playing with inappropriately may be put away for a short time. 

As children grow, parents may need to expand their “tool kit” to assist children develop respectful behaviours. Reading, talking with other parents and attending parenting courses can be helpful with developing further skills. For parents who want further assistance, Parentline counsellors have experience in assisting parents with this issue.