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Behavious Modification in Preschoolers

18 Jun 2006 7:01 AM -

Preschoolers can be just as challenging with regards to their behaviour as toddlers, but often in different ways, relating to pushing limits, challenging authority and consideration of others. This is the age when children must learn to recognize and respect parental authority (and from this the authority of others in later years). The discipline strategies you as the parent employ in these scenarios play a vital role in building a cooperative attitude and respect for your authority.


The most effective way for your child to learn to cooperate is by reinforcing what they do right. Take notice whenever the child cooperates by using sincere praise such as “Good helping!”, “Good packing up!”, “Great teeth cleaning!” etc. Comment when they show improvement, especially at activities which have been a bone of contention in the past. Compliment the child on their good behaviour, excellent choices and thoughtfulness. In these scenarios, reward the child with your attention. Give your child plenty of one-on-one positive and loving attention. Keep in mind that your positive and undivided attention is the most powerful motivator for good behaviour.


Make sure you have the child's attention before issuing the command. Make your commands clear and specific. Avoid vague comments that don't tell them specifically what your expectations are such as “I need you to behave”. Keep it brief because their attention-span is short. Always make a statement, rather than asking a question, which implies the child, can choose whether or not to comply.


Children often hear an endless number of commands and reprimands throughout the day such as “Get ready”, “Come here”, “Stop whingeing”, “Stop doing that”. The more you nag your child, the less likely they are to listen and comply. It is more effective to choose the behaviours that are most important to you, focus on improving those and letting the more minor issues slide.


Consequences are a vital tool in teaching children that their actions may have negative results. Once you have given the child an effective command and they don't comply, warn them of the consequence of non-compliance. Warn them only once otherwise they will learn not to pay attention the first time. You must always follow through consistently, and if you do your child will learn to take you seriously. So before you warn the child of a consequence, make sure you are willing to follow through on it.

Time out is an effective negative consequence for the most difficult behaviours. Beware though that timeout becomes less effective if it is overused, so reserve it for the behaviours that you find most unacceptable.


When disciplining young children, less is more. The more attention you give to your child – even if it's negative – the more likely that the behaviour will be repeated. As Zsar Zsar Gabor once said, “The only thing worse than negative press is no press at all!”. You are better off completely ignoring attention-seeking behaviour in order to reduce its occurrence. Start by warning the child that if you will not listen to them until they cease the misbehaviour. If it continues, follow through and ignore the child's attention-seeking behaviour, even (and especially) if it escalates. Giving in to escalation will only guarantee repeat and further escalation of the behaviour in the future. Only with your persistent ignoring, sometimes for a couple of weeks, will the child realize that the behaviour is ineffective at achieving their desired end. Selective ignoring works well at decreasing attention-seeking behaviours such as interrupting, whingeing, tantrums, silly language, arguing and pleading.


Remember that you are their most important role model and you child often takes their cues from your behaviour. The only way to teach children to use positive behaviours and to avoid negative behaviours is to teach by example.


When rules and daily routines are firmly in place, children know and expect what's to come. Make rules clear by displaying a list of do's and dont's. Establishing a set routine in the morning, at mealtimes and at bedtime can often prevent power struggles. Routines help to neutralize potential arguments as children learn to accept these events as a normal part of their day.


Let you child have a say whenever possible by allowing them to choose between two or three acceptable options. Allowing them to have a say over minor matters will help them to feel a sense of power and control. This in turn will make them more likely to comply with your commands over more important issues.


If you have tried all of the above strategies and your child is still repeatedly using a certain negative behaviour, a reward chart can sometimes work well at curbing the problem behaviour. The chart should visually link the behaviour, the consequence and where the child is improving. Knowing your child's ‘currency', you can then choose an appropriate reward for achieving a pre-agreed goal (e.g. certain number of ‘clear' days).

For more pervasive and refractory behaviour problems, the best option may be to see your local doctor who will be able to link your child up with appropriately trained health professionals such as child psychologists, child behaviour specialists and other professionals.


1. “The Happy Toddler”, Chantal Kayem can be purchased here   http://www.amazon.com/The-Happy-Toddler-Chantal-Kayem/dp/148409154X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414019440&sr=8-1&keywords=chantal+kayem 

The author has also a new book entitled "Help! I've Created a Brat" which has had excellent reviews ( http://www.momtobedby8.com/help-ive-created-a-brat-review/


2. “Power and the Preschooler”, Chantal Gazal, Australian Family, Vol 18, 2006.