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The Five Keys to Good Behavior

Is your child throwing a tantrum at exactly 11am every day? Are afternoons an absolute misery? Do you struggle to get your toddler to sit down and play quietly for even five minutes? It’s possible, they are missing one or more of the five keys to good behavior: sleep, exercise, food, love, and consistency.


Most children do not get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation can have lifelong consequences. Even infants can be sleep deprived. 85% of the time, when I see a child acting out it is due to a lack of sleep. Set aside time every day for a nap. If you can’t be home, set up a sleeping place in a stroller – bring a lovey, use a sound machine, and use a stroller shade to create a sleep positive environment. After about 6 months of age, naps should occur at the same time every day. If you are struggling to get your child enough sleep, consider hiring a sleep consultant.


In our screen obsessed, car driving, and work all day society, many of us are not getting enough exercise. Children missing out on exercise have a harder time concentrating (keep recess in schools!) and a harder time self-regulating (managing their emotions and behavior). If you know your child is going to need to sit for an extended time, encourage them to run first! One mom I met recently takes her elementary age boys to a baseball diamond every day before school, and encourages them to race to touch each tree, and then each base, and whatever else she can come up with. Their teachers report that in class they are the best-behaved students.


Hangry – the phenomenon of being angry because you are hungry. Ever skipped snack with your child and then they completely lost it and wouldn’t eat anything? Children should eat 5 times a day, three meals and two snacks. This means they need a pick me up about every 3 hours.


Many people do not know it, but love is a basic human need. Loving touch, loving words, loving attitude. We see this in studies of infants showing pain relief when stroked by their mother. Children have a need for love. Give them plenty of hugs, kisses, and one on one attention. If your child is acting out, think back over the day. Did they get any undistracted, one on one attention? Children who are not getting positive, loving attention will act out to get negative attention. Setting aside even just five minutes of your day to spend giving your sole focus to your child can make a huge difference in their behavior.


The human brain is an amazing organ, it can recognize patterns even in infancy. Patterns in images, schedules, and language can relax the mind. Children like to know that there are firm rules in place. They like to know that they will nap at the same time every day. They like knowing how a grown up will react in different situations. The consistency of their environment makes them feel safe. Children act out when something new happens. For instance, when a new baby is brought into the house, a child may act out to test to make sure all the limits are still the same. If they are, they will relax back down into their routine, but if the limits are wishy-washy, they will continue to push until they come to a firm boundary.

Teaching children to self-regulate starts with setting them up for success by making sure their basic needs are met. You can do this by ensuring they get enough sleep and exercise, healthy food at regular intervals, one on one attention and cuddles, and have a consistent routine with firm limits. Children can not be expected to behave when their basic needs have not been met. Before you discipline, ask yourself if your child has had these five needs met.

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