What I've Learnt About Behaviour

mum telling daughter off who covers her ears

If we’re honest, young children are completely uncivilised, and part of the job of parenting inevitably involves a certain amount of correctional work...or when you have more than one child, a significant amount of refereeing. As difficult as it can be, with toddlers, you need to be patient and consistent - easier said than done when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed. I’ll be honest, I’ve found dealing with behaviour the toughest part of being a dad. I’ve learnt a few key lessons.

Time outs

“Time outs” work very effectively with some children I hear, but not mine. What’s been more effective has been a time out for the adult!! Taking a breather when you are feeling as overwhelmed means that you’re more likely to make the right decisions. I find taking myself out of the situation for a moment helps me think more clearly. If I’m feeling myself getting annoyed, it’s way more productive (although counter intuitive) to take a breath.


Distraction is an incredible tool to hone. Kids often behave in a certain way because in their little heads, they get stuck on something. Distract them from the issue and often you’ll find the behaviour changes. It’s hard for some of us to get this, but you don’t have to win a moral victory every time a small child misbehaves if you can redirect the behavior and avoid the battle. The overall disciplinary message to young children is the message that you don’t like the behaviour, but you do love the child. Distraction allows you to walk the tightrope of love and discipline.

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Think praise rather than punishment. Kids mimic what they’re shown. If you’re calm and relaxed (as tough as that can be) they will eventually deescalate. Something that we were always told to do is limit bribery - fuck that, bribery totally works. The trick is to structure a situation so that a child is earning privileges (screentime, for example) by good behavior, rather than losing them as a penalty. That’s something I struggled with getting my head around, but it’s key.

Praise, praise, praise.

Search for positive behaviors to praise and reward, and young children will want to repeat the experience. But inevitably, parenthood involves a certain number of “bad cop” moments, when you have to say no or stop and your child will be angry at you — and that’s fine, it goes with the territory. Keep correct as private and as individual as you can, focus on the behaviour and not the individual and similarly, with praise keep it specific. Framing what was good and why it was good is a great way to build intrinsic behaviours.

Let’s be honest, we all do what we can when it comes to getting our kids to behave, and sometimes it doesn’t go quite right. We can only do what we can do after all!

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