As we dive head first into the ‘Silly Season,’ our social calendar is looking jam-packed – and we’ll be attending a number of our upcoming events with the kids in tow. Eek.
As parents, we’ve all been in a situation where you take your child to a special event and, somehow, your sweet angel turns into a disobedient and unruly little human. You try bribes, giving them your phone and any other tricks you have up your parenting sleeve – but nothing works!
Managing your child’s behaviour at special events can be difficult, but is there a special formula to help ease the pain? We spoke to Cliff Battley, clinical psychologist and parenting specialist, about why our children behave this way and what we can do to solve it, and he revealed three steps all parents should keep in mind.
The best part is, the three steps Cliff shared with us aren’t just for special events – they can be implemented when you’re at the supermarket, waiting at the doctors or catching public transport. You can thank us later.
Step One: Plan ahead
Talk to your child about the event, what it entails, and the rules to follow. It’s important to know what they will be doing at the event and, if necessary, prepare some activities.
“For example, at a restaurant, you’re expecting your child to sit still at the table for a long period of time,” says Cliff. “You will need to organise something to keep them engaged – children become bored easily, and their brains are hungry for information and stimulation.”
In general, Cliff explains that a child can sit still without stimulation for the same number of minutes as their age – for example, an eight year-old can sit for eight minutes before they will need something to occupy their attention.
“If you fail to provide it, they will naturally do something to get it, and more often than not, it’s going to be an undesirable behaviour,” explains Cliff. “The trick here is, discuss the event with your child and ask them to choose one or two activities they would like to take with them. For school and family holidays, weekends, trips in the car and other longer events, get together and build a list of interesting and fun activities.”
Step Two: Set clear consequences and rewards
If your child isn’t listening to you, Cliff’s strategy is simple: interrupt the flow of whatever they are choosing to do instead, but in a warm and comforting way. For example, when Cliff’s son doesn’t listen when he asks him to pack up his toys, Cliff will put his hand on his shoulder and wait until his son looks up at him, then ask why he isn’t packing up his toys. This opens a dialogue between you and your child, and allows you to relate to what they are saying, but communicate the reason that they need to listen to you in this moment without repeating yourself.
“If you repeat yourself as a parent, you’re telling your child not to listen to you,” says Cliff. “Think of the armed forces or the boss at work – when they speak, it’s done, because the people beneath them know that there will be a consequence if they don’t.”
This warning can be thought of as a ‘pre-consequence,’ reminding your child that consequences will come next if they don’t listen to you now.
“Make the agreed consequences for not-ok behaviour very clear,” says Cliff.
When your child does listen to you, provide positive reinforcements and congratulate their behaviour.
“Offer meaningful rewards as encouragement for good behaviour,” says Cliff. “I’m not talking about bribes – I’m talking about planned, constructive rewards earned with consistently good behaviour.”
Step Three: Keep checking in
Once the event has begun, help your child get started on one of their chosen activities. As the event goes on, remember that if your child is acting out, it could be because you have disengaged from them and they feel as though they can get away with it.
“Every five minutes (for a five year-old) or nine minutes (for a nine year-old), stop what you are doing and give them your complete focus and attention,” says Cliff. “Set yourself a timer on your phone! Take responsibility for this process, and be sure to always reward your child with specific positive praise for their good behaviour.”
About Cliff Battley…
With over 25 years of experience working in both mental and physical health, Cliff is a Clinical Psychologist with expertise in families and children. His recent book ‘Bully Proof Your Child’ is a handbook that comfortably blends scientific evidence and psychological reasoning with real world, modern parenting. For more information on Cliff and to get a copy of his book visit his website or check out his YouTube channel for more great parenting advice.