When children drive you to despair

File:1849 - Karikatur Die unartigen Kinder.jpg

Emotional battles between adults and children are so commonplace. All parents at some time find themselves at breaking point. resisting the urge to smack is enough to test the strongest of Saints.

Have you ever felt at the end of your tether, worried you might end up doing something you might regret? Do you fear you might lose control? Sometimes it’s just as if they knew just what buttons to press, isn’t it? Children always seem to play up when you are tired and have a headache. It is almost as if they are doing it deliberately to test you and to find out your personal limits.

Tempting as it is, to use physical punishment, it is not really the answer. Not only is it assault, but as your child’s role model by hitting them you are legitimising the use of force. Even “light blows” can catch a child and knock them off balance and they may well fall risking further physical injury hitting their head on objects or landing on their spine rather than their bottom. A blow to the head can easily damage a delicate eardrum or eyes. Shaking a very young child can lead to whiplash injury and concussion as the brain is jarred against the inside of the skull.

Discipline is very much a part of good parenting, but we are talking about the kind of acceptable behaviour that comes about through the use of “positive reinforcement.” Praise and encouragement, if given when your child exhibits the type of positive behaviour you want to see, will pay off and you will find that the behaviour you do not want will gradually extinguish. It is important however, to explain in ways your child can understand why it is that they must not display negative behaviour

Did you know that the word “discipline” actually comes from the word “disciple” or “follower?” The key is for you to model the type of behaviour you want to see. Look at your life, is it full of rows and conflict? If so, this is the area to start. Create a pleasant nurturing environment and your offspring will flourish.

From a CBT perspective I would encourage you to keep a note (preferably written) when problems occur – record details such as the time of day, who is present, has your child eaten certain foods Be aware of the stimulant properties of certain sweets, particularly brightly coloured ones where additives may promote hyperactive behaviour. Also be aware of the amount of sugar consumed (excess sugar can cause spikes in mood and behaviour with rapid highs and lows). Take note also of the general atmosphere present and any other factors present.

Try to pre-empt problem behaviour before it occurs. Listen out for phrases such as “every time.” For example, “every time he plays with her…watches that programme…goes to his house.” Let “every time” be your cue. Try changing the routine, environment or other circumstances. Also be aware of the changing needs of your child and your child’s changing moods. Tiredness often manifests in problem behaviour.

Reduce stimulants. Computers, televisions and electronic gadgets can be over stimulating. Try turning down the volume, dimming the lights and reducing excess noise. Talk quietly to your child instead of shouting.

A quiet word, a gentle touch on the shoulder, a knowing look, may be all that’s needed. Nagging, shouting and “you wait!” are generally counter-productive.

Stop saying no. Listen and take note of the number of times you use the words “no” and “don’t” each day. Instead use positive alternatives such as, “Shall we try this,” or “let’s try that.” Use “I” statements when you can. Offering choices so that children can learn to make decisions will help foster self-esteem.

A smile or a hug is the key to creating a sense of well-being and therefore likely to reinforce the behaviour you are looking for.

Start young, even toddlers recognise facial expression and tone of voice. They learn very early when you are pleased and displeased.

Build a solid base. In the early years there is nothing children really want to do more than please their parents. Take full advantage of this time to teach children to care for their belongings, be polite and respectful, help with simple chores and be considerate of the feelings of others. This really will be time well spent.

Do not tease or taunt. Such behaviour is invalidating and really has a detrimental effect on the child’s personality and later development. In my book teasing, put- downs and humiliation are tantamount to abuse and very traumatic for the child.

Set a routine. Time for homework, time to wind down and time for bed are essentials. Along with routine comes boundaries. All of us need structure and to know what is expected of us. Try to stick to the same routine every day.

Tough love and firm kindness equals happy healthy children. Remember you are the authority figure. Try being Nelson Mandela rather than Attila the Hun.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist



“When the going gets tough…” Steve Clifford, ABC Magazine, 03-07 2002.

“How to Reinforce Good Behaviour in Children.” Elizabeth Grace

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