Dr Richard C. Woolfson
You love your six-year-old, but at times you can’t help wishing she hadn’t developed some of those annoying habits, such as talking back to you when you reprimand her, ignoring you when you ask her to do something, snatching things from her siblings without asking, making rude noises at mealtimes and refusing to tidy her room. At times it’s almost as if she is in a world of her own, oblivious to the fact that there are others around her – it’s not that she deliberately sets out to annoy you with difficult behaviour, but her actions do have that effect.
You can change things. All it takes is some careful planning, a consistent approach and an optimistic outlook. Here are some strategies that could help you break those annoying habits of her:
1. Focus on the positives. No matter how much you find your child annoys you during the day, remind yourself of all her positive characteristics too. True, she irritates you when she talks back and you are fed up that she won’t get ready for school in time, but she does help you with shopping and she goes to bed each night without complaint. Concentrating on what she does well enable you to keep her bad habits in perspective.
2. Set clear targets. There’s no point in telling your child, for example, “I want you to stop ignoring me” as that is too vague. Instead, make your goals very precise, for example, “The next time I speak to you, I want you to stop what you are doing and look at me” – that way your six-year-old knows exactly what is required. A clear target is easier to achieve, especially when it only needs a little bit of effort from your child.
3. Choose your words carefully. Rather than saying: “I’m fed up with you speaking back to me every time”, you could say: “I know you be can be polite to me, because I’ve seen you do it sometimes. Maybe you just need to remind yourself to do that every time.” It’s amazing how more responsive your child is to constructive comments than to negative comments about her bad habits. She’ll be more willing to listen.
4. Be realistic. Don’t aim to eliminate all her bad habits at once – she’ll feel totally overwhelmed and undervalued if you present her with a long list of things she does that irritate you. Better to pick one annoying habit to start with, perhaps the one that gets on your nerves the most or the one that might be the easiest to change. Talk about that habit with your child, explain why you are troubled by it, and offer alternative ways for her to react in that situation.
5. Get him on your side. Don’t forget that your child aged five or six years wants to please you; she really does want you to think she’s great, even though she irritates you some of the time. She wants (and needs) your approval. So use that to harness her motivation for change. You’ll feel great too knowing that you’ve helped her get rid of those annoying habits, without creating a barrier between you.
6. Acknowledge success. Success breeds success – the more you give a positive reaction when your five-year-old manages to change an annoying habit, the harder she’ll try to maintain that progress. Hearing you tell her that you are delighted that, for instance, she tidied her room without having to be told a dozen times, or that she didn’t snatch a toy from her friend, encourages her to behave in the same way the next time.