Child behaviour a daily stress for parents, poll finds

Australian parents struggling with the daily stress of trying to manage their child’s behaviour according to new findings from The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) National Child Health Poll.

One in four parents (27%) report feeling stressed by their child’s behaviour every day and almost half (45%) of parents are not confident that they would know where to go for help if they had difficulty managing their child’s behaviour. Almost half of parents (48%) said they become impatient too quickly, one in three (36%) said they often lost their temper and later felt guilty and one-third (32%) said they often feel overwhelmed by managing their child’s behaviour.

The latest RCH Poll on managing behaviour found the vast majority (95%) of parents use positive strategies to promote good behaviour in their children, such as attention, praise and reward.

The poll also found:

  • A significant proportion of Australian children have been physically disciplined in the past month, according to parent report, with 4% being physically disciplined `quite a lot or most of the time’, 13% `some of the time’ and a further 24% `rarely’
  • A third of parents (33%) said children should be on their best behaviour at all times, suggesting a lack of understanding about the range of normal childhood behaviours
  • A third (32%) said they often feel overwhelmed by managing their child’s behaviour
  • Punitive techniques used at least ‘some of the time’ in the previous month included:
    • Shouting or yelling at their child (61%)
    • Making their child feel bad to teach them a lesson (35%)
    • Threatening physical discipline (23%)
    • Using physical discipline (17%) such as smacking, hitting, spanking, slapping, pinching or pulling
  • More than half of Australian parents (51%) think it is never OK to use physical discipline with a child. However, almost one in five parents (23%) subscribe to the myth that physical discipline teaches a child to respect their parents. Another one in five (23%) incorrectly believe it teaches self-discipline, while a quarter believe children can become unmanageable without physical discipline.

Poll Director and paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes said: “Children behave in different ways depending on their age, temperament, developmental stage and the situation. It is normal for children to push boundaries and to have difficulty regulating their emotions.’’

“Children’s brains are hardwired for attention. The best type of attention for a child to receive is a positive response to desired behaviour. Praise, praise and more praise. If you see your child behaving well – praise them and tell them what they did well. This a powerful way to encourage them to behave that way again.’’

“It was concerning to learn that some parent regularly use physical discipline to manage their child’s behaviour. Physical discipline is not an effective way to encourage good behaviour and it can have long-lasting negative effects on a child, including reduced self-esteem and psychological harm. Children who experience aggressive discipline are also more likely to develop aggressive behaviour themselves.”

Tips to manage challenging behaviour

  • Try to remain calm – remember to breathe
  • It may help to walk away and cool off
  • Try to understand reasons for your child’s behaviour
  • Don’t forget to take time out for yourself

Positive strategies to encourage good behaviour

  • Regularly give your child praise and attention when they behave well
  • Talk with your child about the behaviour you expect
  • Role model the behaviour you want to see from your child

The Royal Children’s Hospital is inviting parents to take part in the RCH Catch Them Being Good Challenge. All you need to do is:

  1. Take note of your child’s everyday efforts and achievements
  2. Tell them what they have done well
  3. Double the amount of praise you give them – the more the better!
  4. Try this every day for at least a week
  5. Share your story on The Royal Children’s Hospital Facebook page so other parents can learn from your experience
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