If your discipline techniques aren't effective, it makes sense to get some professional help for a child of any age. Sometimes just a short-term intervention may be necessary to help you find effective consequences that can help change your child's behaviour. Sometimes a child's misbehaviour interferes with his or her daily life. For example, if your ten-year-old is falling behind at school because he's spending a lot of time in the principal's office due to his behaviours, it's interfering with his academics.
Specific Red Flags
For children of any age, there are some specific behaviours that suggest that your child should be evaluated by a professional immediately:
1. Cruelty to animals
2. Fire setting
3. Aggressive behaviours (outside of normal occasional aggression in preschoolers)- threats, breaking things, throwing things, or hurting others
4. Self-injury- head banging, cutting, substance abuse
5. Extreme non-compliancy
6. Lack of behaviour change despite consistent consequences
7. Evidence of any psychosis- reports of hearing or seeing things that other people don't hear or see
8. Lack of remorse or lack of empathy for other people's feelings
1. Interrupting When You're Talking Why you shouldn't ignore it: Your child may be incredibly excited to tell you something or ask a question, but allowing her/him to interrupt you in your conversations doesn't teach her/him how to be considerate of others. As a result, he/she'll think that he/she's entitled to other people's attention and won't be able to tolerate frustration. How to stop it: The next time you're about to make a call or visit with a friend, tell your child that he/she needs to be quiet and not interrupt you. Then settle her/him into an activity or let her/him play with a toy. If he/she tugs on your arm while you're talking, point to a chair or stair and tell her/him quietly to sit there until you're finished. Further, if your child is still interrupting you introduce the concept of negative reinforcement, for instance take her/him toys away, or avoid talking to her/him for an hour to make her/him understand that you are upset.
2. Playing Too Rough Why you shouldn't ignore it: You know that you have to step in when your child punches a playmate, but what about the more subtler acts like shoving his/her brother or pinching a friend? No matter what the intensity of the act is, no rough behaviour should be accepted. If you don't intervene, rough behaviour can become an entrenched habit by the age of 8. Plus, it sends a message that hurting people is acceptable. How to stop it: Confront aggressive behaviour on the spot. Pull your child aside and tell him/her, "That hurts your friend. How would it feel if she/he did that to you?" Let him/her know that any action that hurts another person is not allowed. Before his/her next playdate, remind him/her that he/she shouldn't play rough, and help him/his practice what he can say if he/she gets angry or wants a turn.
3. Pretending Not to Hear You Why you shouldn't ignore it: Telling your child two, three, even four times to do something she/he doesn't want to do, such as get into the car or pick up her/him toys, sends the message that it's okay to disregard you and that he/she--not you--is running the show. "Reminding your child again and again just trains her/him to wait for the next reminder rather than to pay attention to you the first time you tell her/him something". How to stop it: Instead of talking to your child from across the room, walk over to her/him and tell her what she needs to do. Have her/him look at you when you're speaking and respond by saying, "Okay, Mommy." Touching her/him shoulder, saying her/his name, and turning off the TV can also help get her/him attention. If she/he doesn't get moving, impose a consequence.
4. Helping Himself/herself to a Treat Why you shouldn't ignore it: It's certainly convenient when your child can get his own snack or pop in a DVD, but letting him have control of activities that you should regulate doesn't teach him that he has to follow rules. How to stop it: Establish a small number of house rules, and talk about them with your child often ("You have to ask whether you can have sweets because that's the rule"). If your child turns on the TV without permission, for instance, tell him to turn it off and say, "You need to ask me before you turn on the television." Stating the rule out loud will help him internalize it.
5. Having a Little Attitude Why you shouldn't ignore it: You may not think your child is going to roll her/his eyes or use a snippy tone until he/she's a preteen, but sassy behaviour often starts when pre-schoolers mimic older kids to test their parents' reaction. Some parents ignore it because they think it's a passing phase, but if you don't confront it, you may find yourself with a disrespectful third-grader who has a hard time making and keeping friends and getting along with teachers and other adults. How to stop it: Make your child aware of her/his behaviour. Tell her/him, for example, "When you roll your eyes like that, it seems as if you don't like what I'm saying." The idea isn't to make your child feel bad but to show her/him how he/she looks or sounds. If the behaviour continues, you can refuse to interact and walk away to convey that your child's behaviour is not acceptable.
6. Exaggerating the Truth Why you shouldn't ignore it: It may not seem like a big deal if your child says he/she made his bed when he/she barely pulled up the covers, or if he tells a friend that she/he's been to Walt Disney World when she/he's never even been on a plane, but it's important to confront any type of dishonesty head-on. Lying can become automatic if your child learns that it's an easy way to make herslef/himself look better, to avoid doing something that she/he doesn't want to do, or to prevent getting into trouble for something she/he's already done. How to stop it: When your child fibs, sit down with her/him and set the record straight. Let her/him know that if he doesn't always tell the truth, people won't believe what she/he says. Look at his motivation for lying, and make sure he doesn't achieve her/his goal. For example, if she/he said that she/he brushed her/his teeth when she/he didn't, have her/him go back and brush them.