Having fun with kids is cool. Negative behavior is not!
Children look up to au pairs as role models who are “cool” and “fun”
You can be “cool and “fun” but you also need to know how to keep your position of authority, so when you put your foot down, the kids know you mean it.
This section will give you the tools to handle children’s behavior in a positive, constructive way.
Setting a good example is the key
Children often act out by being non-cooperative or aggressive. This is very natural and it’s how you react to it that is so essential for a positive experience.
Children’s behavior can often be frustrating, annoying and exhausting. At times, children act out when they are hungry, tired, or not feeling well, and these feelings can make a child feel out of control.
As the “grown-up” in this situation, you are the one that needs to stay in control.
Have fun but stay in control – the balance!
Whilst it’s important to have fun with the children in your care, it is essential that you maintain control and know when enough is enough!!
Children are naturally curious and playful and their carers should encourage these qualities. But the types of behaviors that need redirecting include:
Acting disrespectfully to adults
Focus on the good, not the bad
Ever heard of the 80/20 rule?
80% of the time you spend with children should be engaging them in positive interactions. If you are spending more than 20% of your time correcting negative behavior, you are doing something wrong!
Try to catch a child doing something good and praise them, boosting their confidence in their ability to be a “good kid”. This is called positive reinforcement.
Kids like to have fun and your job is to let them have that fun within acceptable boundaries.
Don’t nag or dwell on negative behavior. It will only bring on more negative behavior. Use this energy to praise and encourage the good behavior that children display.
Reward systems and positive encouragement will take you much further than discipline and punishment.
Appropriate forms of discipline
Children need boundaries and guidance when learning how to behave appropriately. Whilst you might feel like the easiest solution would be just to stick the child with duct tape to the wall, it is definitely not the best or most legal option!
The most effective discipline tool is teaching children that there are consequences for negative behavior.
Warn children in advance what will happen if they continue to engage in negative behavior. That way, the child is able to make a conscious choice before acting.
Try to relate consequences to the behavior you are managing so they make sense for the child. For example, if a child is throwing toys, ask them calmly to please stop. If they continue throwing toys, warn the child that if they throw another toy, they will lose that toy for a specific amount of time and then follow through if the child chooses to throw the toy again. If a child draws on a wall, give them a rag and ask them to clean it. At what age can you ask them to do this you ask? If they are old enough to draw, they are old enough to clean it off!
What is the most effective method of discipline?
The art of distraction and sometimes just ignoring
The ideal behavior management technique you should try is the art of distraction. Often, children act out when they are seeking attention or feeling left out. When this is the case, it is advisable not to play into the behavior and instead ignore it. For instance, if a child learns a swear word, they may repeat it over and over, trying to get a reaction from you. You could respond by implementing consequences and punishments OR you could ignore what the child is doing so they learn that you won’t respond to swearing. This actually takes away the power of the word they are saying.
By distracting a child with another toy or activity you can change their negative behavior into a positive experience. For instance, if a child is splashing water out of the bathtub after you’ve asked them to stop, you could distract them with a new bath toy “hey look at this” or blow bubbles – be creative!
Losing a toy or privilege
Depending on the age of the child you are caring for, you will need to adjust the consequences you enforce bad behavior.
For younger children and toddlers, losing the object or toy they are misusing is a good consequence. Similarly, if they are misbehaving on the playground, sitting them away from the equipment for a period of time or if necessary leaving the park would be appropriate consequences.
For older children, losing TV or computer privileges might be a more effective consequence.
Whilst the ideal way of managing behavior is to focus a child on more positive interactions, sometimes you need to resort to a stronger message.
“Time out” can be effective as a measure to take a stance and can be started as young as the toddler years. When giving a child “Time Out”, place the child in a designated corner or spot away from the activity of other children. Tell children they must sit quietly, calm down, and not return to the activity until you’ve given them permission. If the child won’t stay in “Time Out”, keep returning them to their designated place and start over timing until they are able to complete their time out.
Generally, one minute per year is a good rule, so a two-year-old would have a two minute time out while a six-year-old would have six minutes to calm down and think about how to have better behavior when they return to the group.
It is natural for a child to be angry with you after enforcing a timeout, but this method is a proven effective discipline tool. It allows children to collect themselves and return to the group in a calmer mood.
It’s important to always end a timeout or other consequence with a cuddle and reminder that the child is a good child and that you care about them.
Key points to remember
Make children aware of your limits and rules so you don’t spend time “disciplining” in order to gain control
Be sure to carry your consequences or children will learn that you are a “pushover”
Be a good role model and have fun – children will look up to you and respect you for it
Carers for children can easily get frustrated and even angry regarding children’s needs and behaviors.
It is important to know that it’s natural to feel frustration when caring for children, and there are tools you can use to deal with children in a calm, nurturing way. As the mature individual in these situations, you must stay cool-headed and know that it is never ok to hurt a child.
No matter how frustrated you get, never, ever shake a baby, as this can cause permanent damage, death and serious legal implications for you. If you find a child is crying non-stop and you need a break, simply lay the child somewhere safe, preferably a cot, and walk away.
You may come to a point where you feel so frustrated that the only solution is to is hit, smack, shake or slap a child, all of which is absolutely never acceptable.
If your frustration levels ever rise to the point that you’d like to hurt a child, put that child somewhere safe and WALK AWAY until you can calm down.
Here is what some parents had to say about “smacking”:
If you ever feel like you are having trouble controlling your anger or your desire to hurt yourself or another person, GET HELP.
In a life-threatening situation, call your local emergency services
For a crisis moment call a local support service – they will help you talk through your feelings and make sure that no one gets hurt. Here is a useful link with many countries’ suicide hotlines: International Suicide Crisis line
Be sure to openly communicate with your family and friends about your feelings
Let the parents of the kids you care for know about your frustrations – they will likely have tips to help you better manage the children
Don’t continue working for a family if they aren’t responsive to your concerns, or if you feel uncomfortable with the children’s behavior
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