As SmartMoms, we have the tendency to see our kids in a pretty biased light. They’re our babies, after all! While the bus boy at your favorite restaurant shakes his head at your little dumpling’s meltdown, you feel a mixture of embarrassment, frustration, and deep love for the little monster.
Figuring out whether you’ve got a typical kid or child with a behavior problem can be tricky when you’re a mom because 1. You don’t view them objectively and 2. There are legitimate ages and stages for things. You can’t expect a 1 ½ year old to be a master at obedience when the truth is, they’re not even sure if they have a belly button or not yet. So, how do you know if your child has a behavior problem?
Keep in Mind What Stage They’re In
Birth – 1 Year
Children at this stage cannot understand rules. So, to you mamas with babies, hear my words – you do not have a child with a behavior problem. Babies will understand that you like smiles and that mommy makes them feel secure and that bright colors are fun. But, you can’t really expect anything but cuteness, crying, pooping and peeing at this stage. What you can do to start setting ground rules is demonstrate. They won’t get it yet, but it will eventually sink in. When you’re cooking, look at the stove, mock-touch it and say “Ouch! HOT!” and make a sad face. When you plug something into an outlet, say “No, no!” and furrow your brow. When you give your baby a cracker, say “Say thank you!” and smile. Doing these things is a good idea because babies understand you before they can communicate back, so it’s never too early to start teaching.
Age 1 – 2
At this stage, you can start showing your child how to behave through example. You will be cleaning up their toys for them, but inviting them to help you. Right around age 2, your kid will start LOVING the word “no.” You might also see temper tantrums start to surface around this time. The best way to handle it at this stage is actually to ignore it. Your child wants your constant attention, and at this age, you can start teaching them they can’t always have it. Your kid can’t understand consequences yet. You can’t reason with them, but they will learn from how you respond to them. Don’t give in to their outbursts if you can tell it’s an angry tantrum.
Age 2 – 3
Oh boy. What an age this is. “Terrible Twos” isn’t a cute little name that someone came up with to describe a small percentage of two-year-olds. It’s pretty much across the board. The tantrums are likely going to happen. It’s all in how you respond. Do your best to stay calm during discipline and whatever you do, don’t give into their demands during a tantrum. Know that at this stage, tantrums are normal, but they are not acceptable. Be firm in whichever disciplinary method you’ve adopted and don’t waver or be wishy-washy. If a tantrum happens in public, remove your child from the situation and carry out the consequences. Don’t expect to have a perfectly behaved two-year-old, even if you’re consistent. And remember not to let all the craziness of this age make you an angry mommy. Be quick to discipline and even quicker to forgive and get goofy again. Making things into a game is a great way to teach your kids how to behave when they’re this young.
Age 3 – 5
This is such a great stage. All your hard work is finally catching on. You no longer feel like a police officer. You can enjoy your kids and see them becoming more understanding and empathetic toward others. This is the stage where you can start to tell if your child has a behavioral problem. All kids are going to fail (a lot), but at this stage, if your child is routinely defiant and unable to follow directions, you have a problem.
The important thing at this stage is that you are consistent and that your discipline is laced with love. Also, keep in mind, positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Your tone and demeanor are HUGE at this stage. Because your kid is old enough to care about how you feel, you need to keep your emotions in check. Stay calm during discipline and when it’s over do your best to resume goofiness and affection. Children (people in general really) respond best to positive reinforcement. You will need to lay down the law at this stage, but you need reward good behavior often. Bigger kids like to please people, so make sure you are giving praise for positive behavior.
If your child is not responding to discipline, you may need to change up how you handle discipline. Every child is different. Some kids will respond with nothing but a firm look, while others will give you a battle. Research different methods of discipline and don’t be afraid to change things that aren’t working. Just be consistent.
Don’t panic if you’ve got a behavioral problem on your hands. You can undo bad behavior by showing your child they are loved and that you are proud of them when they do well and also by being consistent with discipline.