All parents struggle at one time or another to deal with the behavior of their children. It could be a sleep problem, refusal to eat or general poor behavior. We have our own ways of dealing with them, some successful some not, but a little expert help is always welcome.
One such expert is Professor Tanya Byron. A mother of two and a practicing Chartered Clinical Psychologist, she has had some 20 years of experience dealing with children’s behavior. She is also a writer and broadcaster who works with and writes about emotional and psychological issues affecting people of all ages.
Specializing in working with children and adolescents, over the years she has publicly expressed opinions on dealing with behavioral problems in children. Among her many other roles, she currently presents Channel Four’s Bedtime Live programmer that is designed to help families with sleep problems.
Professor Byron has contributed to discussions on child behavior on many forums. Her view is that, when dealing with poor behavior, how you respond will determine if that behavior is repeated. Good behavior should be reinforced with praise and reward and poor behavior not reinforced (e.g. ignored). She is against physical punishment because it can cause a struggle – even enforcing a time out can be a struggle – and is totally against smacking.
According to Byron the most important factor in controlling a child’s behavior, is the setting of boundaries and consistency in the application of rules and punishment. Shouting at a child should be avoided as this equates to attention and could lead to repeat behavior. Ignoring it, on the other hand, is highly effective.
Getting a child to eat is a common problem. Professor Byron suggests that snacks should be avoided as they can affect the child’s eating pattern and, if the child refuses a meal, then no further food should be offered until the next mealtime. Coaxing by challenging the child can help though. It’s always worth trying an approach like “I bet you can’t eat that faster than….”
Getting a child off to sleep can sometimes be another typical battle. In this situation, routine is a key factor. Bedtimes should be regular with a calm settling routine beforehand. If a child wakes up and cries for attention, a parent entering the bedroom and briefly telling the child to hush will help. Or, if the child gets up and leaves the bedroom, just take him or her back without a comment. Never make a game of poor sleep behavior.
Professor Byron has recently attributed some of the poor development, hyperactivity and behavioral problems found in many British children to lack of sleep. The problem, she claims, can be laid at the door of parents who do not teach their children proper sleep behavior by allowing them to stay up late, letting them to share their beds or giving them time to get up for snacks or to seek attention.
According to an article in the Radio Times, she says that sleep deprivation leaves children “unable to concentrate and learn, angry and impulsive and relying on high-sugar and high-fat foods to boost flagging energy levels.” The problem, she says, has caused an unspoken “public health crisis” in Britain.
If any of these scenarios sound like your child, then Professor Byron’s advice might help. Clearly, she believes that proper sleep is a major influence on child behavior, so that could be a good place to start.
Jane Parkinson is a education recruitment expert specializing in early years and nursery care.