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There are many behaviours that parents can find tricky in the early years. Most of the behaviour you think of as unacceptable is actually normal behaviour for your child’s age and stage of development. Your child does not do this deliberately or intentionally.

Young children often communicate their feelings and needs through their behaviour, whether they realise it or not. This is because they do not yet have the words or understanding to communicate verbally or in other ways. Try giving lots of praise and attention, by showing love and affection and talking to them. This can help build a positive relationship. 

What works if you plan ahead:

  • Time to show love. Giving your child love and attention will help you become close. Close contact triggers a hormone called oxytocin, which makes you all feel happy.  Try to make time to be physically close and give cuddles every day.
  • Time together. Unwanted behaviour can be a child’s way of seeking connection.  Make sure you give your child plenty of opportunities for connection throughout the day by talking, listening and playing.
  • Notice the good. Give your child genuine praise when you see a positive behaviour. This helps your child feel good about themselves and they are more likely to repeat it.
  • Meet the need. You tend to notice and mention negative behaviour because it is irritating. Don’t reward behaviour you don’t like by giving it too much attention. Instead, find a positive way to meet the need behind the behaviour.
  • Stick to clear boundaries. Children need to learn that there are certain rules that cannot be broken in order to keep them safe. This can be explained to them and an alternative offered.
  • Plan ahead. When out and about, have some small toys to distract your child with or think of some games to play. Distract your child when they are about to do something you don't like.
  • Time in. Sometimes your child may have reached a stage where they can’t be distracted from their behaviour and they need to be taken away from the situation to a calm place. They are still learning to calm their emotions and they need your help to do it.
  • Develop structure and order to the day. Establish some routines as this will help your child understand what is expected of them and what is going to happen.
  • Try to work out the reason for your child’s behaviour. Think about whether there are times when you see more unwanted behaviours. What triggers this behaviour?  What changes could you make to avoid this and break the cycle? The acronym HALT is a good starting point to use when doing this with young children - is your child Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired?
  • Keep the place safe and remove temptation.  Keep things that could harm your child locked away (e.g. medicines, batteries, dishwasher tabs).
  • Try to encourage everyone close to your child to deal with unwanted behaviour in the same way. This consistent approach helps your child feel secure. Your child may get confused if they are allowed to do something one day and then is told off for doing the same thing the next day.
  • Do not smack or physically punish your child. This is illegal in Wales. Children need to feel safe and secure in their family and their home in order for them to be at their best.
  • Ignore the little things.  Children use noises, whining, whinging and stamping to gain attention. Rather than react and give attention to these behaviours, try to give lots of praise and attention to the behaviours you want to see more of.

Look after yourself

Meeting up with other parents may help remind you that you're not alone. Your Family Information Service will be able to tell you what’s on in your area.

If you want to learn more about positive parenting, find out what parenting support and groups your Local Authority offer.

Family Lives offer a confidential and free helpline service for families in Wales on any aspect of parenting and family life. To speak to someone call 0808 800 2222 or visit Parenting and Family Support – Family Lives to access the live chat. 

Parent Talk Cymru (Action for Children) offer a free and confidential live chat with a parenting coach available in English and Welsh. Visit Parent Talk Cymru