Managing children’s behaviour can seem a Herculean task when they begin to realise how much fun getting into trouble can be. However, parents will often yell themselves hoarse or tear their hair right out of their head, without it making one bit of difference. Rather than simply punishing children, which is often as hard on a parent as it is on a child and more often retributive rather than informative, consider making a behaviour management plan.
Define the Problem Behaviours
Before a behaviour management plan can be put into practice, problem behaviours must be identified. Problem behaviours are those that parents would like to see changed because they are inappropriate for the child’s age or stage of development. Problem behaviours can be small annoyances (thumb sucking), embarrassing (public temper tantrums) or even dangerous (hitting, kicking or biting others). Some children will also display a variety of behaviours at the same time, such as yelling, breaking things and kicking others during a temper tantrum. A good behaviour management plan will take into account all of the problem behaviours.
Observe the Problem Behaviours
In addition to knowing which behaviours are problematic, parents must also understand why and when these behaviours occur. Observing a child to see if there are any themes in where behaviours occur, if behaviours occur when certain people are or are not around, when behaviours occur and the consequences that these behaviours bring with them will help parents understand how best to target and modify these behaviours in a behaviour management plan.
When behaviours are identified and “understood,” goals should be set for the behaviour management plan. Both short term and long term goals should be delineated so that the plan can be assessed both during and after its use. Short term goals can be daily, weekly or even monthly. Most long term goals should be no longer than one year, and should not seek to eradicate behaviours completely. For example, thumb sucking may die out within a year but it is also a comforting gesture that a child may turn to in a time of high stress after the year is out. This does not mean that the behaviour management plan has failed.
Decide on a Path
When goals have been set, the behaviour management plan must be fleshed out. Deciding how to manage or modify behaviours is key. Will it be through positive reinforcement, negative consequences or a combination of both? What will the positive reinforcements be? What methods of discipline will be used as negative consequences? How long will these decisions stand before they must be reviewed? These are all questions that should be considered when a behaviour management plan is being devised. Professional educators and child development experts will likely be able to help, if needed.
When a behavioural management plan is complete, it does no one any good unless it is put into practice. Explain decisions to the child, so that (s)he understands that from now on the target behaviour is unacceptable and there will be consequences if it does occur. If possible, start the plan on a Sunday or a Monday so that each week brings a clean slate. Be sure to celebrate major milestones throughout the plan (weekly and monthly “anniversaries”) and don’t be afraid to have a celebration for ultimate success.