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Healthy Ways

October 22, 2009
Larry Darrah

One of the most common questions parents of preschoolers ask us concerns behavior.

While there are many different types of behavior therapy for this age group, they all have a common goal: to change the child's physical and social environments to help them improve their behavior.

Although no approach works for all children, here are some general tips that many parents find useful.

Set specific goals: Concentrate your effots in one area at a time. Don't try to fix everything at once.

Provide rewards and punishments: Give specific rewards for appropriate behavior and provide some form of punishment for bad behavior.

Keep the child on a daily schedule: All children do better if there is an established routine. Try to keep the time your child wakes up, eats, goes to daycare, comes home and goes to bed the same.

Cut down on distractions: Keep TV viewing, loud music, etc. to a minimum and off during mealtime.

Organize your house: If your child has specific places for his or her toys, clothes, etc., he or she will be less likely to lose them.

Set small goals: Aim for slow progress rather than instant results. Be sure that your child understands that he or she can take small steps toward learning better control. Take it slow.

Limit choices: You can help your child learn to make good choices by giving only two or three options at a time.

Find activities at which your child can succeed: All kids need to experience success to feel good about themselves.

Use calm discipline: Use consequences such as time out, removing them from a particular place, situation or distraction.

Sometimes it is best to simply ignore the behavior if the child is not in danger. Physical punishment is usually not helpful. Discuss undesirable behavior with your child when you both are calm.

Many parents are concerned that their toddler's inappropriate behavior may lead to attention-deficit/hyperactivitiy disorder when they start school.

It is true that during ADHD evaluations, the history sometimes reveals behavior problems early in childhood, but this is true in only a small percentage of children.

Every child is different and often behavior is related to environment.

They are just exploring and learning what is expected of them. They still need close supervision and direction. Your neighborhood library has books that discuss children's behavior in more detail.

While some children's behavior may need intervention by a child psychologist, your primary care provider will be able to offer some guidelines that help.

Be sure to discuss your concerns with the child's physician.

And remember, take it slow when introducing strategies to improve your child's behavior.

Larry R. Darrah is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner for Wheeling Hospital's Center for Pediatrics in Martins Ferry, under the direction of Dr. Judy Romano.

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