University of Illinois Extension
a guide to the business of babysitting
 

Behavior and Guidance

Reasons for Misbehavior

All children misbehave sometimes. That is a normal part of growing up. But children's behavior is also influenced strongly by the people and the environment around them. Here are some reasons a child might be misbehaving:

  • Needs a nap
  • Feels ill
  • Needs food/drink
  • Has too much stimulation
  • Feels bored
  • Feels frustrated
  • Feels scared around strangers
  • Needs to feel a sense of power and control
  • Needs attention

Preventing Misbehavior

You can prevent some misbehavior of children from occurring by practicing some of the following tips:

Use encouraging words - When children are behaving well, they deserve your attention and appreciation. They will learn that good behavior is a way to be noticed.

Using positives - Tell children what you want them to do rather than what you do not want them to do. Changing "Don'ts" to "Do's" takes practice, but is worth the effort. "Do's" give good ideas rather than bad ones and are more easily understood.

What Would You Do?Setting limits - Limits tell a child what is expected. Too many rules and demands may overwhelm a young child, but setting a few limits on matters that are really important reduces conflict and the need for making more discipline decisions. Limits are most effective when they match a child's ability; are expressed in clear, positive terms; are consistently enforced; and are based on reasons the child understands. Example: The child can no longer sleep at nap-time but becomes overtired by the end of the day. You insist that she spend an hour doing quiet activities after lunch.

Giving choices - When children are allowed to make small choices (Examples: An apple or raisins for snack, television or a story before bed) they learn to make simple decisions and will be prepared to make more important decisions in the future. They feel a sense of power and control over their lives when they can make some choices.

Use humor - Children respond well to humor. It is effective at breaking tension or avoiding a struggle. (Example: The child has left his jacket outside. You say, "I see a lost jacket out in the yard. I hope someone helps that poor jacket find it's way home.")

Warnings - Letting a child know in advance what to expect eases transitions and reduces resistance. (Example: The children are busy playing. You let them know that lunch will be ready in ten minutes.)

Planning ahead - You can be prepared so that problem behavior is avoided. (Example: You know the child becomes irritable when he gets bored so you pack some toys and activities to play with when you babysit this child.)

Change the setting - You can change the child's environment so that certain misbehaviors are prevented. (Example: This toddler likes to tear up newspapers so you put the newspaper out of site.)

Role model - You practice the behavior you would like the children in your care to adopt. (Example: You want the child to let someone finish speaking so you do not interrupt the child when she speaks.)

When misbehavior does occur, it is first important to try to determine the reason for the misbehavior. By knowing the reason why a child behaved in an inappropriate way, then you can use the appropriate discipline technique.

Handling Behavior Problems

Here are some ideas for handling common behavior problems:

Diverting attention - This works well for infants and toddlers as they are easily distracted. Diverting attention from an activity you disapprove of by substituting another plaything or leading the child to another activity is an easy way to avoid a meaningless struggle with a child who is too young to understand and learn from other methods.

Calming time - A calming time may be used to separate fighting children or calm an over-excited child. You need to calmly explain to the child/children that they must sit quietly for three minutes (you may want to give one minute of calming time for every year of the child's age — a four year old would receive 4 minutes of calming time). Calming time gives children time to simmer down, think about their behavior and realize that you will not allow such behavior to continue.

Ignoring misbehavior - This is an effective way to deal with fighting between siblings and misbehavior that is directed at getting attention. Children do need attention, and it is important that you give a child your attention at other times and especially when they are behaving well. Children who do not get enough positive attention will settle for negative attention (Example: yelling) brought on by misbehavior.

Redirect behavior - You can move a child away from behavior you do not like by suggesting an alternate acceptable behavior. (Example: The child is throwing a ball in the house. You set out some paper cups and suggest that the child try bowling, stressing that the ball must be rolled.)

Consequences - Allowing children to experience the consequences of their behavior can be more meaningful than any action a caregiver could take. A child who experiences unpleasant consequences of behavior will not be likely to act that way again.

Consequences may be:

  • Natural - A child who acts bossy may spend a lonely day after playmates decide to leave.
  • Logical - A child who rides a bike in the street is not allowed to use the bike for a period of time. Logical consequences are used when the natural consequences (being hit by a car while riding a bike in the street) would effect a child's health or safety. Sometimes it is difficult for a caregiver to allow a child to experience consequences but it is important to remember that the child is learning.
  • Problem Solving - You can talk with the child about why she is behaving in a certain way, why the behavior is unacceptable and how you might work together to change the behavior. (Example: When the child is angry, she slams her door, this causes the pictures to fall off the wall. Next time she is angry, she will tell you how she feels.)