Encouraging positive behaviour patterns in the early years 

Min Robertson has worked with children for over 25 years as a teacher and a mentor. She has impacted 1000’s of children’s lives through her business, Happy Mojos, which specialises in wellbeing training, clubs and classes for schools and families to thrive. Here she shares her insight with us offering tips and advice for encouraging positive behaviour in young children.

Min Robertson from Happy Mojos

Young children are little sponges; they absorb every sensory experience and they process this to develop an ever evolving neuroplastic brain and internal intelligence. These processed experiences are weaved into an intrinsic web of previous experiences, emotions and body responses, which, in turn, defines their behavioural patterns. Kids acting up are simply a result of how they are feeling, their previous experiences and their current mind-body interpretation so by encouraging positive behavioural patterns in the early years, you are investing in their development, mental hygiene and wellbeing. 

Here are some strategies to help guide children toward positive behaviour:

1. Check-in with yourself

A dis-regulated parent will not have their own positive behaviour patterns and therefore will not be able to model this to their little ones. Stop, take a breath and ask yourself “How am I?” Respond to your question compassionately to self-regulate.

2. Be a Positive Role Model

Children often imitate the behaviour of adults. Show kindness, patience, and respect in your interactions with them and others and they will mirror your lead.

child sat on mother's lap

3. Set Clear Expectations

Clearly communicate your reasonable expectations of behaviour. Use simple, age-appropriate language, and be consistent with your rules and consequences.

4. Consistency

Be consistent with rules and consequences. Children thrive on predictability, and inconsistency can be confusing and upset their balance. If you are co-parenting, ensure your messages are consistent too.

5. Positive Reinforcement

Praise and reward good behaviour with gratitude. Offer specific compliments, such as, “I like how you shared your toys with your friend, thank you,” empowering children to make great choices next time.

6. Provide Structure and Routine

Establish a daily routine that includes regular mealtimes, nap times/ bed times, playtime, and calming, unstimulating moments as well as other stimulating activities. This provides a sense of security and balance across the day and helps children know what to expect. 

toddler tucked up in bed asleep

7. Use Time-Outs Sparingly

While time-outs can be effective, use them only when you have tried other strategies. Explain why the time-out is necessary, linking it to the behaviour and not the child. Something like “I love you but I am not accepting this behaviour” separates the behaviour from them a little and gives them the message that they have a choice moving forward. Focus on teaching rather than punishment. Remember to ensure you are regulated yourself before you manage their behaviour.

8. Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Encourage children to find solutions to problems on their own. Ask questions like, “What could you do?” And be enthusiastic rather than judgemental over their ideas. This helps them develop resilience, critical thinking and conflict resolution skills. Model this also in your daily life.

9. Redirect Negative Behaviour

When a child displays negative behaviour, try to redirect their attention to a more appropriate activity or behaviour.

10. Teach Emotional Understanding

Help children understand and manage their emotions. Use feeling words and pictures to encourage them to express their feelings in a healthy way. Validate their feelings authentically and with empathy, for example,  “I feel like that too sometimes” or, “I am sorry that you feel this way.” 

11. Encourage Independence

Foster independence by allowing children to make choices within appropriate boundaries. This can help them develop a sense of responsibility, autonomy and empowerment.

two children playing in cardboard box

12. Be Patient

Understand that children may not always meet your expectations immediately. Patience is essential in helping them develop positive behaviour patterns. 

13. Model Empathy and Respect

Help children understand and respect the feelings and boundaries of others. Encourage them to share, take turns, and be kind to others and to expect this received back to them.

14. Monitor Screen Time

Change your mindset about screen time; don’t view it as down time or a pacifier to strong emotions. Limit screen time and ensure that the content they consume is age-appropriate and educational. 

15. Release your inner child!

Spend quality time with your child, engaging in activities that promote learning and bonding. Play is the best way to explore emotions and behaviour in a fun, motivating and meaningful way. 

16. Explore and model coping tools

It’s great to model positive behaviour but the process of this requires many skills: checking in, identifying how we are feeling and practising tools to support the development of those positive behaviour strategies. If we don’t have the understanding or the tools, how can we possibly expect positive, responsive behaviour? Explore strategies to support: a hug, a story, belly breathing, a walk or run in the park are all positive tools to support. Try creating a safe space in the home which is solely used to decompress and calm can nurture children back to balance. Then, talk about it at their level of vocabulary once regulated as this develops higher order thinking, interoception and mental intelligence.

17. Seek Professional Help When Needed

If you are concerned about persistent or severe behavioural issues, consider consulting your child’s paediatrician for guidance & support.

18. Every child unique

If you’ve more than one child then you will know that every child is very different and so your approaches that you use for your first, may not work out so well for your second, third or fourth! This can keep you on your toes but essentially understanding this and accepting that every child has their own web of neurobiology is key to your success. So meet them where they are at. 

Remember that the best investment you can give to your child’s wellbeing is through mind-heart-body led learning where you model, are patient, consistent and offer plenty of love and support as they develop their own positive behaviour patterns.

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