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The shift from the sweetest child to the most defiant one is often subtle. Once the gentlest soul, your child can change into a little terror and become aggressive, rarely eat, have repeated meltdowns both at home and in public, rarely listen, become a poor sleeper, care little about hurting other people’s feelings and generally do what he feels like. Much like Hemingway’s definition of bankruptcy, this shift doesn’t happen overnight; it occurs, “gradually, and then suddenly.”
The not-so-sudden transformation of your sweet child into an out-of-control child can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated, and like the worst parent ever, but you are not alone: parenting a strong-willed child is easy for no one. Trying to discipline a child who seems constantly out of control is a continuous struggle for everyone.
The thing about discipline is that not every kid responds to the same strategies and one strategy that may work like magic with one kid could fail miserably with another. The truth is, some kids are easier to parent than others, and there is evidence to support that.
In a recent study, researchers came to the conclusion that for discipline to be effective, it had to be tailored to individual kids’ personalities. In other words, using the same parenting style with all your children will not guarantee success if their personalities are radically different. As most parents know, it is not uncommon for two kids raised exactly the same to be nothing alike.
The study which was conducted over a three-year period with the participation of 214 children and their mothers found that different children react to the same parenting style differently – this hardly tells us something we didn’t already know!
While spirited children will undoubtedly require greater attention, there might be unexpected reasons that affect your kid’s behavior and learning to identify these reasons can help restore your sanity. It might be time to do something different if you’re feeling lost and all your discipline attempts seem to be failing. Below are eight surprising things that may influence your child’s behavior.
While researchers hold widely divergent views on the diets that influence kids’ behavior, an increasing number of studies suggest that nutrition is a change agent that affects how your child behaves. In other words, there is now proof that “your kid is what he eats”, and that what he eats can alter his mood and behavior.
The available evidence suggests that banning certain foods from your kid’s diet can help calm anxiety and hyperactivity. There have also been suggestions that gluten-free meals can help transform kids’ behavior because most of the foods that contain gluten (bread, pasta, cookies, cereals, etc) have undergone major transformations that have made them difficult to manage for some kids.
While many parents, especially those of autistic children, swear by the effectiveness of going gluten-free and casein-free (casein is the protein found in milk products), there is as yet no scientific proof of the effectiveness of these diets. Indeed, not all kids react to these diets, and it is still not possible to tell why they work for some kids, and not for others.
What we know, however, is that kids’ moods and levels of concentration can be affected by unhealthy diets. In other words, ensuring that your kid gets a balanced diet can help stabilize and/or reduce mood disorders.
Here are a few simple things you can begin with:
- Ensure that your child has evenly spaced and balanced healthy meals. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can have an impact on his behavior.
- Ensure that his diet includes essential fatty acids. Common food sources for essential fatty acids include salmon, herring, walnuts, almonds, olive oil, whole grain food, spinach, and broccoli.
- Ensure that your child’s diet includes iron and zinc. Iron and zinc deficiencies may influence children’s behavior, moods, and level of concentration. Natural sources of iron and zinc include beef and pork, soy products and beans, whole grain food, shellfish, liver, spinach, pumpkin seeds and quinoa.
- Ensure that he gets plenty of water and cut back on soda and sweetened drinks. Cut back on processed foods.
- Ensure that your child gets sufficient fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce your child’s intake of sugar. In one study, researchers observed six- to seven-year-old kids over a four-week period. They found that kids who ate breakfasts with a lower sugar intake performed better on memory tests, had longer attention spans and had fewer behavioral issues. Low glycaemic load food breakfast options may include bran cereals (for example Weetabix), fruits (apples, oranges), whole grain bread, boiled eggs, baked beans, etc.
If you’re struggling with picky eating or you would like to shift to a more healthy diet for your kid, the site Super Healthy Kids can help you out with ideas for balanced and healthy meals that will tempt even the pickiest eater. The site also offers a free course to help you get started.
2) Sensory issues
Not all kids process information the same. Some kids are more sensitive to certain sensations than others. Kids with sensory issues are often wrongly described as “oversensitive”, “picky eaters”, “clumsy”, “hyperactive”, “moody”, and so on.
Kids with a sensory processing disorder have longer and more intense tantrums and generally appear to exhibit extreme behavior. For instance, they may appear to be insensitive to normal sensations such as cold or heat, complain about clothes’ tightness or itchiness, turn around and around without getting dizzy, seem unaware of dangerous situations, seem over clingy or on the contrary, flee from hugs or too much contact.
Having sensory issues does not necessarily mean that your child has a sensory processing disorder, but this checklist can help you determine whether there is cause for worry. Having these types of issues simply means that your child may have difficulty processing some signals.
Sensory experiences can help calm your kid’s anxiety, increase focus and concentration, and reduce misbehavior, irrespective of whether or not she has behavioral disorders. What you need to know is that not all kids will react to these experiences in the say way. The available research suggests that incorporating sensory experiences to children’s everyday experiences can make it easier to meet the needs of even the most challenging among them. This post shares five practical and easy tips to help you incorporate sensory experiences into your kid’s life.
3) Lack of emotional intelligence
Children don’t always know how to deal with their big feelings. A child who is angry, frustrated, or anxious won’t come to you and say “I’m frustrated”. She’ll lash out or withdraw into herself, or she may display different forms of behavior frequently defined as “misbehavior”.
Your child’s struggle with big emotions can manifest in diverse ways. She may no longer want to go to sleep, speak in a rude manner, develop an attitude, become aggressive, have problems at school, lack concentration, become clingy and fearful, and so on. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale developed by Thomas Holmes & Richard Rahe identifies common stressors that may also affect kids. Here are a few of them:
- Death in the family
- Change in financial situation
- Parental disputes
- New family members
- Change in residence
- Change in schools
- Change in recreation
- Change in church activities
- Change in social activities
There is now abundant evidence that emotions drive behavior, and that having conversations around emotions can make a huge change in your child’s behavior. Fun and age-appropriate strategies to develop your child’s emotion regulation skills exist, and these can help her learn about a wide range of emotions.
Fostering your child’s emotional intelligence means helping her learn to identify different emotions, understand what triggers them, and learn how to manage those emotions by herself. The Emotions Kit proposes an extensive collection of resources designed to give you tools to communicate with your child about emotions. Free resources such as my FREE ANGER AND ANXIETY EMAIL COURSE can also provide you with practical and easy-to-apply tips to help develop your kid’s emotional intelligence.
Why and how to use essential oils to calm your kid’s anxiety and hyperactivity (plus 3 awesome recipes)
10 Age-appropriate Resources to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety
3 things to ban from your kid’s diet to calm anxiety and hyperactivity
5 awesome resources to help kids deal with anger
We are the worst versions of ourselves when we are tired and overwhelmed. The same is true for kids. Your kid’s fatigue can have a negative impact on his behavior. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that your child is getting sufficient rest:
- Set and stick to a bedtime routine. With an overwhelmed schedule, it is easy to skip routines such as reading good-night stories or singing with/for your child. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that a bedtime routine can make the transition to being asleep easier for your child. She will feel safer in a predictable routine she can follow every night.
- Too many distractions are tiring. Adjust your child’s environment and get rid of distractions that might be tiring her out.
- Ensure that your child has an opportunity to have “stand and stare time”. Kids overwhelmed with activities are more likely to experience fatigue.
But fatigue doesn’t affect your kid alone. Your level of fatigue influences how you perceive your child’s behavior. In other words, you are more likely to view him as challenging when you yourself are tired and stressed. There is now proof that parental fatigue increases hostility toward one’s child and can make you feel like a bad parent. That’s why it’s important to take time for you and find a network you can rely on when you need some time away from your kids. Also, self-paced courses such as the Stress-Free Kids, Stress-Free Parenting Program can help you develop an effective parenting strategy.
5) Low expectations
Kids tend to act in line with what they believe is expected of them. The labels you use to describe your child can lead her to believe that certain behavior is a fundamental part of her nature. In other words, if you persistently describe your child as a “difficult child”, she will act like a “difficult child”, and there is evidence to support this view. Research suggests that labels can alter behavior. What this means is that your vision of your child can shape her personality and the relationships you develop with her, well beyond the childhood years.
The labels you use to describe your child also set the stage for how others see her. When you repeatedly define her as “violent” others are likely to share this view. Positive labels help build up our kids, but they do not mean we should excuse misbehavior. An aggressive kid is not a “born leader”. But being more aware of the negative labels we use to describe our kids and changing those to positive ones will ultimately change how we view them and their behavior, and how we react to it.
It is important to have high expectations of your child, and this means having expectations in line with what she is capable of and holding her accountable for her actions. The underlying principles of effective discipline are warmth, rules, and consistency. Also, your child is more likely to behave when expectations are clear – clear for her, not you!
This means you need to communicate clearly and firmly. For example instead of “tidy up”, you could say “all toys in the toy bin”. Using “okay” at the end of your sentences gives your child the impression that he has a choice. Being firm means saying something like “This is our last game. When we’re done, it’s time to go brush your teeth.”
There is no one way to discipline, and two kids will not necessarily respond to the same discipline technique in the same way. What matters most is how well you are able to develop an effective “discipline toolbox” that is in line with your child’s personality and your own. If you need help, “The Science of Discipline Workbook” provides a step-by-step guide to help you eliminate specific misbehavior, and practical tools and resources you can start using immediately.
6) Not having a say
Autonomy granting is a term development psychologists use to refer to the transfer of decision-making power from parents to their children through parent-controlled processes.
Research suggests that encouraging your child to participate in the decision-making process can be useful in helping reduce misbehavior. Involving him in decision-making could mean allowing him to make simple decisions that affect him but within a controlled process. For example, instead of telling your child to “sit down and do your homework”, you could say something like “will you do your homework before or after your snack?” The more your child feels like he has participated in decision-making, the more likely he is to stick to the decisions made.
7) Lack of routines
Kids thrive on routines and there have been suggestions that a lack of routine can have an impact on your kid’s behavior. In their book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross argue that simplifying parenting using routines can lead to calmer, happier and more secure kids. For example, they suggest that making meals predictable by choosing one theme for each day of the week and sticking to it weekly (Mondays – pasta night, Tuesdays – soup night, Wednesdays – pizza night etc.) is good for kids and also easier for parents. You can check out my review of Simplicity Parenting here.
8) Behavioral disorders
In a study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers found that kids’ temperament may render them vulnerable to certain behavioral problems, regardless of parenting. In other words, you might not always have the resources to help your child. It might be necessary to seek professional help if your child displays the following symptoms:
- Intense, long, and frequent mood swings
- Reactions disproportionate to the situation
- Destructive behavior
- Behavior you are unable to deal with
If you are feeling overwhelmed by your child’s behavior, turning to a skilled professional can help you overcome difficult moments. Many behavioral disorders share similar characteristics and speaking with a specialist is a first step toward the correct diagnosis of your child. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and that the earlier you begin working on your child’s disorder, the easier it will be to manage his behavior.