Understanding and responding to behaviour

4-8 years

Being a parent or carer of young children can be an incredibly rewarding experience but it can also be a bit of a rollercoaster. Parenting is often described as a journey, with different stages that present different rewards and challenges along the way. Sometimes you overcome these challenges quite easily but other times you might need some advice. 

All parents find it hard going at times and many of you have told us that you’re not always confident in dealing with some of the more challenging aspects of your child’s behaviour. Well don’t worry – you’re in the right place! On these pages we will signpost you to evidence-based positive parenting resources that are designed to help you understand your child’s behaviour better and to work out how best to respond. We will also list some top tips for supporting positive behavior in your children.   

What do we mean by Positive Parenting?

This approach helps to build healthier relationships between you and your children and promote family co-operation. It helps you to be sensitive, responsive and consistent in the way you interact with your children, so that your children are happier, more optimistic and more motivated to choose positive behaviours.  All our signposting and resources are focused on positive parenting. 

Grandmother reading book with grandchildren

You may know that behaviour is your child’s voice

All of our actions are driven by feelings and your child’s behaviour is their way of letting you know how they are feeling and what their needs are.

If you can understand your child’s behaviour you will be well on the way to working out a response that will promote the positive behaviour you would like to see.

Our top tips for managing behaviour in our 4 – 8 year olds

Stay calm - This helps to prevent situations escalating and is a good opportunity for you to model how you want your child to behave. Children from a young age can also be supported to breathe calmly, put their hand on their heart and feel the beats as a relaxation technique when they are panicking or becoming overwhelmed.

Reframe the behaviour instead of saying ‘why are you behaving like this?’ try ‘What’s happened?’

Give praise rather than focusing on the negative behaviours. Find opportunities to praise your child for small acts of kindness and good behaviour. Praise builds your child's self-esteem and helps to motivate them to choose behaviours they know you like.

Use empathy - Try to understand your child’s point of view and how they are feeling - even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. Feeling understood and listened to is very powerful and helps to build positive relationships. Try saying ‘I can see you are angry/upset/worried, let’s try using your words to tell me what you feel.’

Have realistic expectations – These should match what your child is able to do. We all develop at different rates and what one child finds easy, another may find hard. Acknowledge small steps and effort. Some examples of what you might see your child doing:

  • 4 year olds – may have an imaginary friend, may still use a comfort object, increasing  ball skills, becoming more coordinated, getting dressed with minimal help, enjoying silly games and talk, sometimes might lie, may be bossy, may blur reality and fantasy, starting to choose own friends, tend to be dry at night.
  • 5 year olds – will be able to do most of the gross motor skills such as jumping, running and climbing, learning how to share but may still find this difficult, may become afraid of things e.g. monsters, learning to become more independent and want to choose clothes and food.  
    Kindfulness - picture of children smiling
      
         
  • 6 year olds – rides a bike, starts to see that some words have more than one meaning, giggles about toilet talk, understands concept of time, testing limits around behaviour, may start to fear death.develop at different rates and what one child finds easy, another may find hard. Acknowledge small steps and effort – some examples of what you might see your child doing
     
  • 7 year olds – starting to talk about feelings and understand that they affect behaviour, hand-eye co-ordination is well developed, has good balance, able to understand reasoning and makes right decisions, tends to complain and has strong emotional reactions.
  • 8 year olds – focus and attention span are improving, likes to collect things, reading because they like the content of the book rather than just improving their skills, understands the days of the week and months, becoming more aware of their bodies, able to complete personal hygiene tasks and get dressed.

  • If you have any concerns about your child’s development you can speak to the school nurse or your GP.    

Use consistent boundaries that are clear and fair. This will help your child to feel safe and to become more independent

Use rewards to help your child remember what behaviour you want to see more of.  There are a range of ideas that can support working towards rewards for example filling a jar with pasta or marbles, earning stickers or points, cutting up a picture of the reward and they earn a piece of the picture.  There are many ideas you can use – try to tie pictures or charts in with your child’s interests.  

Give choices to help your child become responsible e.g. Do you want to wear your red jumper or your blue one?  The Family Links parents download page listed below has some great steps for giving choices and introduces ideas to help children understand there are consequences to the choices they make. 

If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour you don’t have to cope alone. In the first instance speak to your child’s class teacher - are they seeing the same challenges?

Further resources 

The Family Links parents download page has a range of useful information that can support your parenting.

Netmums have an online parenting programme developed in partnership with Family Links. This will guide you through different parenting topics and situations, helping you become a more confident parent. 

There is also parent advice and support from Family Lives who have video clips of parenting advice for a range of topics and age groups. Family Lives also have an on-line programme you can register for.

Triple P is another on-line parenting course that aims to help your child become a confident child who can deal with challenges.

The NHS also publishes advice on Dealing with Child Behaviour Problems

The NHS also has guidance on what to do if you are worried about your child’s emotional and mental healt and when to use CAMHS


Five to Thrive - Respond

Trying to understand your child’s behaviour can be difficult, so there are questions we should ask: how does the behaviour help your child seek you out as their key adult, and feel safe and comforted?

Our brains work best when other people give us loving attention and respond to us.

  • Being ignored unsettles the nervous system and can make us feel anxious or angry. If we get no response, the calming system activates, switching us off so that we stop feeling anything. Loving attention settles the nervous system, so that we can be in a balanced state.
  • When your child has your full attention, their whole brain is working. When you are watching TV, texting or talking on the phone, they don’t get this benefit.
  • Your child will know how you are responding to them by watching your expression, your body language and listening to the tone of your voice.
  • As your child grows and develops they begin to figure things out for themselves so waiting to see if they need you before offering to support can be a good first response
  • Responsiveness comes from being able to hold another person in mind so that we recognise how they are feeling and what they might need from us.

Ideas:

  • If you can, get down to your child's level when speaking with them
  • Instead of saying ‘don’t throw that’, try saying ‘I would like you to put that back where it belongs’.
  • Tell your child what you would like to see them doing instead of what you don’t. They will then be able to understand.
  • When you and your child are both calm you can think about what happened; what was the behaviour? What was the emotion your child was feeling? Talk about and agree what your child could do differently next time. This co-learning supports your child to learn how to manage their own emotions and behaviour in future...”