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Tips for Improving behaviour in tamariki (children)

Ngā tīwhiri whakamahi pai o ngā tamariki

grumpy girlThere are several ways you can work to improve the behaviour of your tamaiti (child).

A wee bit of time each day...

This is where the TV and screens go off and you spend some time with your tamaiti, doing something they want to do.

This doesn't mean spending money! It might be playing with their dolls, figurines, LEGO or trampoline. Your job is to allow them to lead the activity and play along.

It can take a bit of time and practice to enjoy playtime with our tamariki (children), but when we do it sends some really important messages, such as:

It also means we learn more about our kids, what they love doing and even some of the challenges they're facing.

For fun play ideas head to:

Flip things to the positive

Sometimes when we feel annoyed with our kids, it can be really hard to look for good things to say about them. But saying something positive can be a total game-changer. We all love to hear good things about ourselves and when behaviour has become a tad challenging, it can be because of a negative cycle...

Illustration showing the cycle - "they annoy us" - "we say negative things" - "kids feel there's something wrong with them" - repeat.

It's important to remember that our kids do not know any other way because they're still learning.

The trick is to really look for the positive.

Keep it really specific to the positive behaviour and be authentic with it.

Sometimes it really helps to hone in on a behaviour you're keen to change.

Illustration showing the cycle - "we look hard to notice positive things" - "we see positive things and praise them" - "kids feel good and want to do more positive things" - repeat.

Amazingly enough, spending time playing with our kids each day and looking for the positive makes a real difference.

Acknowledge their feelings

Being frustrated, angry, overexcited or disappointed can be the pathway to out-of-control behaviour. Acknowledging the smaller feelings before they escalate can be one way to let them know that you understand, you're listening to them and that their feelings matter. While this means you do not have to fix it and sometimes cannot, it goes a long way towards letting tamariki know they aren't alone in their emotions – and can really help them manage them.

Be firm, fair and friendly

Set some household rules. For example, "We are kind to each other" and "We use gentle hands and feet". Talk to your tamariki about what these rules mean.

Be consistent and make sure the consequences for breaking them are appropriate and fair. Stay calm – model how you want your kids to behave.

Be consistent

Caregivers need to work together – if the message isn't consistent, it won’t work.

Use distraction

If your child's behaviour is annoying you or getting worse, try distracting their attention away. Perhaps they’re bored or need a calmer activity. Keep them close by you and increase the positive attention you give them for helping and being calm.

Teach your child what to do

Talk to your child about challenging times and say you would like to try something different when times like this happen. Talk about where they might go that’s calming for them and what they might do. For example, read a book, jump on the trampoline or nestle into their duvet.

As well as this, practice calming things to do. Tummy breathing is a really important skill to help us calm down.

Some great ways to try these activities and talk about our big emotions include:

Try ignoring harmless behaviour

If it doesn't hurt anyone or destroy anything, it may be better to ignore it. Making a fuss over undesirable behaviour can actually encourage it.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2021.

Page reference: 194475

Review key: HIPPR-71581