Dealing with challenging behaviour from 6, 7 and 8 year olds is hard work, and can be very emotionally draining on parents. Here’s 4 key tips for managing behaviour at this age from parent expert Diane Levy.

A few key steps, and consistency, will go a long way to moving the behaviour forward. Behaviour expert Diane Levy reminds us there’s no magic bullet in response to a reader’s question.

I have a 7 year old son who is testing the boundaries all the time and has no respect for any of our family members. He kicks at people, talks back, has to have the last word, no interest in studies, just wants to play and watch cartoons all the time, doesn’t like outdoors games or walks, puts up a fight and tantrum for everything he gets told to do but doesn’t like, e.g. have his bath, get ready for school. Every day is a battle. Need some help, please.

Firstly, let me express some empathy to you. It is remarkably difficult living with a challenging child and it is quite hard to turn around.

Also, by the way you write, he doesn’t enjoy the sort of physical things that you would expect from a seven year old and, in this way, he may be quite different from other family members.

Managing 6, 7 and 8 Year Old Behaviour

1. Create an atmosphere that means your child feels understood just the way he is

2. Always go over to your child to make a request and start by being courteous

3. ASK once, TELL once, then create distance till it is done.

4. Start the morning by being the boss.  The first few requests may be difficult but your job is to get your child to experience that once you ask for something to be done, nothing happens until it is.

The first step is to be on his wave-length and acknowledge that the things you are asking of him are not necessarily things he wants to do.

Instead of trying to ‘sell’ him the idea of a walk or a bath, try taking the approach that you know he doesn’t necessarily want to do these or like to do these, but they are necessary for his health and wealth being.

Although this will not get you smiling compliance, it will at least let him know that you get what it is like for him.

When it comes to how to change the situation with challenging children, what we need to ask ourselves is how are we approaching them.

Do we do it with a straightforward and simple parenting request, eg ‘get in the bath’, ‘get dressed’, ‘come to the table’.

Do we start by asking, and when it’s not happening, descend into threats, consequences, offers of rewards or punishments?

If we hear ourselves uttering sentences like, ‘if you (do this good or bad thing for me)….then I will (do this good or bad thing to you)’, it means we are allowing ourselves to be seduced into entering into negotiations.

The CIA have a saying, ‘don’t negotiate with terrorists!’ When we, as parents, ask our children to do something, we need to expect them to do it without a reward, consequence or punishment. They should just do it because they are a child of the family.

So how do we get our children to do things? Mostly we ask once and then ask more loudly and then start getting into discussions.

I would like to suggest instead that you go over to your child, put a gentle hand on his shoulder and ask/wait till he comes to a stopping point in what he is doing.

ASK once, TELL once

dealing with challenging behaviour
Then, when he’s able to focus on what you’re asking, ASK him to do it. If he declines or whines, stand your ground and TELL him firmly what you expect.

Do not get into a discussion or any form of negotiation.

If he absolutely refuses, use one or other form of Time Out till he does it.

There is physical Time Out where you pop him in his room or any other place of your choosing, and he stays there till he is ready to do as you have asked.

The other sort of Time Out is where you go and get busy with whatever you’re doing and remember what you asked him to do. If he approaches you with any other requests, you warmly say, ‘as soon as you have done (whatever it was you asked him to do), I’d be happy to help you with that, but not before’. Then go about what you were doing.

This concept of ASK once, TELL once and then create distance until it is done, is no magic bullet.

It is hard work and it takes time.

I find that the best time to think about it is ‘the night before’. Work out what you are going to do the following morning so you start as the boss. Also work out what you are going to do if things run late…or begin in the weekend.

Then make sure that the first 4 requests of the morning happen in the same way – ASK once, TELL once, keep away until that is done.

Good luck and best wishes to you.

If your young child’s challenging behaviour turns to anger, then check out Dealing with anger and Helping children deal with anger. And for more expert advice, check out our School age: Behaviour section.

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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