‘A child never just shows spicy behavior’

Children who hit, scream, bite, get extremely angry or show other spicy behavior: what do you do about it? Punishment does not help to solve this, says child psychologist Tischa Neve. She also knows what helps. Look behind the behavior. What is the need, the desire, the character, how does a child feel? You must answer that’.

Tisha Neve

Fighting, not listening, strong emotions: there is always something behind such behavior. ‘Behavior is never just something,’ says child psychologist Tischa Neve. It’s up to us to find out what’s behind it. What need, emotion or desire does the child express? Try to see the situation from the child’s perspective and stage of development. Then you better understand why a child does what it does. For example, a young child cannot yet understand that biting or hitting hurts someone else. As adults, we children must learn to deal with emotions and with others. Always remember that: you want to teach the child something. Even if it doesn’t listen, doesn’t want to cooperate or exhibits unwanted behavior’.

Stable base

A first step is to provide a stable base, says Tischa. ‘Create a recognizable and safe (play) environment. Give structure and routines to the group. For example, by letting the children sleep and eat on time and enough. When children are used to routines, they understand what is expected of them. They will then collaborate more easily, because they know exactly how things are going, for example when to clean up, go outside or at the table. Because of that clarity, you often have less to limit. Make fixed agreements and rules, set limits and be consistent. In this way, you are clear to children and you give them guidance and security. You can always fall back on it and approach the kids about it: “What was the deal again?” You always take them in as we wish. Of course, you have to live up to that yourself. That way you prevent disturbances and you have to put out fewer fires.’

Contact and connection

It is also important that you provide sufficient contact and connection moments during the day. Tischa: ‘Keep good lines of contact with all children, really listen and pay attention to them. This way you prevent them from using negative behavior to get your attention.’

Together with Professor Margriet Sitskoorn and researcher Jef van den Hout, Tischa Neve is one of the speakers at the opening congress week for the young child on Friday 31 March. More info or sign up >>

Collaborate and discuss

Your own state of mind also plays a role. If you have a lot on your mind, if things are going on in the team or with a direct colleague, it will have an impact on the children. Tischa: ‘Children sense it. Then make it a negotiation. Especially in these hectic times, a lot is being asked of you and your colleagues. Right now it is therefore extremely important to jointly see if everyone can still deliver the necessary quality and if there can be enough for the children. If you don’t do this, you will notice that children respond to this with their behavior. And that means you have to zoom out again and again: what about our routines, are they still in good shape? Do we all do it the same way and every day? How is the calm in the group? How are we doing, are we taking care of ourselves? And how do we ensure that we continue to consult well despite the crowds? It’s hard, but try to hover over it like a helicopter. Then you signal immediately if something goes wrong, and you can react immediately.’

Look behind the behavior

Of course, sometimes children are conflicted, don’t listen or don’t keep agreements. Tischa: ‘Then lovingly limit a child. It is especially important that you look at what the behavior is behind, what the child needs. For example, some children need more control, to think along or choose for themselves. If a PM tells you what to do and how, such a child resists. If you know that and can meet that need, you’ll avoid a lot of fixes. It may also be that you first really have to catch a child’s attention before they can listen. Some children can be easily adjusted from a distance, with others you first have to make real contact with them before your message gets through. Often it is not unwillingness not to cooperate or listen at all, but in their enthusiasm such a child sometimes forgets that something is not allowed or should be done. For example, be quiet in the hallway when you go outside. It may help to remind you of the appointment in advance. It may also be that a child has another need. A child who is very busy and restless will not (could) sit still in his chair. Then you do not help the child by limiting him, but it is better to say: “Go for a run.” In short, look behind the behavior. What is the need, the desire, the character, how does a child feel? You must answer that. Find out what works for which child. How to best ensure that it works. Ask yourself: Does the child understand what to do? Can it do what you expect it to do? Is it getting the right management or is a different approach needed?’

Positive approach

‘But most importantly’, says Tischa: ‘pay attention to things and moments that go well. Take a positive approach by letting the children know what you want from them instead of saying what is not allowed. Try to respond as much as possible to children’s needs and also hold up a mirror to yourself. Look at behavior differently. Otherwise, you keep correcting and you end up in a negative spiral. And that’s exactly what you don’t want.’

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