When your kid’s teacher bring up behaviour issues in the classroom, it’s easy to feel powerless. Sure, you can have stern words, ask your child to improve, or promise punishments if the problem persists. But you can’t actually sit next to them in school and watch over them all day, can you…? No, not really.
What you can do is set up clear behaviour models in the home, which your child will then take with them into school. Many parents work on this when doing homework with their little ones, but it’s something you can do in all areas of your life together at home.
Take a look at the tips below to help your child learn how to behave well in all areas of their life.
In the morning rush, it’s easier for you or your helper to sort out your child’s schoolbag, pour their milk, and remind them to put on their tie. But try using one of the task motivators below to help your child take some of this responsibility on for themselves, and their maturity will develop immensely.
Collect puzzle pieces – You can do this with a real puzzle or one you make yourself by cutting up a picture in advance (make it a picture of something your kid likes so they’ll really want to see the whole thing). Set up rules in advance for how pieces are collected, e.g. one for each completed part of their morning routine, each chore done before dinner, or each time your child follows your instructions without complaining.
Follow task lists – Create a list of tasks together, with helpful pictures and colour-coding so it’s easy to follow. Put this up in a very visible part of your home and point to it silently whenever your child seems distracted. Children with attention issues find a task list especially helpful, as it keeps them oriented within a stream of activities. Soon they’ll be able to check themselves what they need to be doing and they’ll be motivated to complete the whole list.
Carrot and Stick
Clear and consistent rules are the key to helping your child control their behaviour at home. Use a mixture of carrot and stick incentives to guide them towards the behaviour that will serve them best for the rest of their lives.
Praise the positive – Children want your attention, so if bad behaviour draws you straight to their side, they’ll keep acting up. Instead, show them how much you value good behaviour by recognising it every time. This works best if you can get down at eye level and be specific with your praise, e.g.
“I saw that you kept trying with your writing even though you found it difficult; that’s fantastic!”
“I know you don’t like colouring, so it’s really nice of you to spend time doing it with your sister.”
Reward with responsibility – Stickers and game time might seem like natural rewards for good behaviour, but they can feel like bribes. Why not try rewarding your child with responsibility. In my classroom, you’d be surprised by how many students fight over cleaning the board or collecting lined paper from the tray. At home, you can reward your child’s good behaviour by recognising that they’re ready for some responsibility. Let your little one lay the table for dinner and they’ll love being a useful member of the family, plus you’ll lighten your own load as well!
Three strikes and you’re out – Children need to know that they’re allowed to make mistakes, but also that there are consequences for continued misbehaviour. Consistency is key here, so make sure that all caretakers (parents, helpers, grandparents, etc.) know the rules and follow through. There’s nothing more confusing to a child than persistently misbehaving without consequence one day and then being yelled at over a tiny slip in behaviour the next.
When you’re doing homework with your child, this is as close as you’re going to get to seeing how they behave in school. If you’re seeing any issues in behaviour here, they’re sure to be magnified several times when your kid is sat at the back of a classroom without a parent by their side. Help your child perfect their behaviour with you so they’re getting the best from their time at school.
Set ground rules – Help your child understand what good study behaviour looks like: stay in your seat, head off the table, no eating, phone away, etc. It seems strict to have these rules in the evening at home, but it’s best to divide fun and work times up clearly so that your child can see how they need to regulate their behaviour differently in different situations.
Establish signals – Kids thrive on predictability and repetition (how else could they get through their 37th viewing of Frozen?). Use specific signals to remind your child to remain on task. In schools, teachers clap out a rhythm to gather attention. In my classroom, I subtly tap a finger twice on a student’s paper to bring back wandering focus. Kids who often interrupt can be taught to put their hand on your arm rather than butting in while you’re explaining something. Setting up some reliable signals with your child can help them modify their behaviour without needing a lengthy discussion on the issue each time problems arise.
If you’ve tried all of these tips and you still find the same issues coming up at home, ask yourself the following questions:
Are my instructions short and simple? If your instructions are not suited to a child’s level of understanding, they can feel lost, confused, and even stupid. This can quickly prompt poor behaviour in children as that distracts from how helpless they feel. Make sure that your instructions are clear, simple and easy to follow, and confirm this by having the instructions repeated back to you.
Have I checked in with their needs? Bad behaviour often points to something else going on with a child. They feel they haven’t had enough time to play, they are tired, hungry, or just want some one-on-one time with their mum or dad after a long school day. Check that all your child’s needs are met so that they are ready to co-operate with your behaviour requirements at home.
Are you asking too much? Not every child can concentrate for half an hour on the same thing (I know not every adult can). Work to understand whether your child needs more regular breaks to let off steam by playing a running game or by grabbing some crayons and colouring for five minutes before continuing with their tasks. Over time, you can gradually expect more and more of them, but setting the bar too high from the start will make them reluctant to even try.
Willow Hewitt is the Head of English at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of i-Learner Education Centre. She has been teaching in Hong Kong for several years, and has a highly experienced international teaching team who love to share their knowledge and resources with parents whenever they can.