Infants and children do annoying things, so plan to spend time and energy correcting these behaviors in your child or at least modifying them to be less annoying. In handling any undesirable behavior in a child, consider these general strategies:
- Track the trigger. Get inside your child’s mind and figure out why she is doing what she is doing. What sets her up for mischief? Is there a pattern to the misconduct? Is she tired, bored, hungry, overloaded, or in the wrong place at the wrong age and time (for example, a toddler in a department store at suppertime)? By discovering what’s behind the behavior you’ll be better able to avoid it.
- Reinforce the positive. Young children don’t know a behavior is “good” or “bad” until you tell them. When they get a positive response, they are motivated to continue the behavior. When they repeatedly get a negative response, they drop it (unless the negative response is seen by them as positive, i.e., someone paid attention). This is why it’s important to correct undesirable behaviors early, as soon as the child is old enough to behave appropriately. Otherwise, these behaviors become part of a child’s way of acting and are much more difficult to change.
- Feed flowers, pick weeds. The conduct of a growing child is full of undesirable and desirable behaviors — weeds and flowers. Given good nurturing, flowers grow so well you hardly notice the weeds. But often these flowers wilt at certain seasons and the weeds become more noticeable. If you just wait until that season is over, the weeds subside, and the flowers bloom again — sometimes so beautifully that you forget the weeds are even there. Sometimes the weeds grow more quickly than the flowers, and you have to pull them out before they take over. So go the behaviors of a growing child. Part of disciplining a child is to weed out those undesirables that make a child unpleasant to live with so that the desirables flourish and make the child a joy to be around.