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Tips on Childcare


There is so much I could say about the life changing experience of having a child.  But I am going to restrict myself here to an important parenting lesson I learned about dealing with bad behaviour.

It seemed entirely counter intuitive but it made sense and most importantly it worked. I was reminded of it because a friend older than me recently took his first steps into parenthood.  Every time I ask him how his little one is he responds, “so naughty lah, so naughty.”  There are many different books and some very scary techniques out there but this is what worked for me then and still does now.

I have to say my son was the perfect baby. Like me you probably remember heaping praise on your child as he got older especially when we did those things for the first time.  “Wow that’s great you can put your shoes on” But when I was presented with challenging behaviour as he grew, like my friend who just became a father recently,  I got it all wrong.

When my son behaved perfectly,  sitting on the carpet engrossed in a jigsaw puzzle or playing with his little wooden train set for example, I would see this as a perfect opportunity to get busy myself somewhere else.   He’s keeping himself occupied I thought, I don’t have to pay attention to him. Now I can do some work, call some friends, read my book.

Conversely when he got frustrated and behaved badly or yelled I would leap up and pay attention to him.  What I  didn’t realise is that getting the attention is the holy grail for all children. Children want attention, even negative attention. They soon learn that if they can’t get positive attention they can quickly manipulate and monopolise their parents’ time to get attention for bad behaviour instead. We encourage and actually even train our children to act badly by paying attention to the naughty behaviour and ignoring the good. What I had to learn to do was to heap that praise on my son for playing nicely by himself or sharing his toys nicely and not to ignore him when he was doing the behaviour I wanted to see more of.

Just as it’s important to reward the good behaviour of children, it is also important to fail to reward bad behaviour. Child rearing experts tell us that actively ignoring inappropriate behaviour is called “extinction” and it actually weakens that bad behaviour. Bad behaviour includes,

  • Whining, fussing, pouting and sulking
  • Telling falsehoods
  • Loud complaining in public intended to manipulate
  • Grabbing another’s toys
  • And even tantrums in public

When children live in an extremely restrictive environment where little attention is paid to them normally then this will result in an escalation of bad behaviour. Bad behaviour will become the norm. Everyone will point to their children and say they can only squabble. Often times this bad behaviour will be expressed more and more in public.  For some this is because being ignored is a fate worse than death.

I only have one child but some children live under a regime where their parents have favourites and this creates sibling rivalry. The children see favourite sibling A getting all the limelight. Some parents also build up sibling B in case anything happens to A.  Of course each child is an individual. Even with two children it is often clear that they are like chalk and cheese and parents often express surprise at how different the second sibling is to the first. This is how it should be. How awful it would be if all our children are the same like clones. Parenting requires respecting and nurturing individuality whilst encouraging the children to cooperate. It is not necessary for any child to lose his individuality or subsume his essential nature to learn to play nicely with other kids. The key is cooperation.

But bad behaviour escalates as a result of this sibling rivalry. This is why we talk of middle child syndrome.

We must make sure we don’t inadvertently reward that bad behaviour by focusing on it, writing about it and even pointing a camera or recording device at those children having a temper tantrum in public.

The PM recently said that the odds were against his children going into politics. I believe it is also wise not to let your children go on to the stage. The gossip magazines are full of press about the temper tantrums of Suri Cruise and other famous offspring.  Even adults have been proven to behave differently the moment a camera is pointed at them .

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