Tips for Managing Behavior Issues, from a Pediatrician Mom

Your kids are always perfectly behaved, right? It’s probably pretty hard for most parents to answer that question with an “of course” and keep a straight face. It often seems like some behavioral and medical “professionals” (especially those that aren’t parents, or whose kids have already grown up) are quick to dispense advice when they’re asked by frazzled parents, “What should I do about my kid’s tantrums (or some other issue involving bad behavior)?” And many of them give advice in a way that makes it sound like executing the techniques they’re suggesting at home is going to be a breeze. Guess what? It’s not!


That’s why I was pretty excited when I saw an article about parenting and dealing with child behavior in Parents magazine that was actually not only written by a pediatrician, but also a pediatrician that is an actual mom of young kids. In this article, “A Prescription for Discipline,” Jean Goh, M.D. provides some sound tips that can help parents “realistically” diffuse their children’s bad behavior and raise them to be happy and emotionally and physically healthy.


I think a lot of parents don’t necessarily remember to regularly ask their pediatricians about behavioral issues; when they’re at the doctor’s office, they’re usually preoccupied with physical health. But as Goh says, asking for guidance from your pediatrician about your child’s behavior and emotional health should always be on your regular agenda:  “A pediatrician’s duties also include helping parents raise well-grounded children.”


In “A Prescription for Discipline,” Goh admits to sometimes feeling like a “hypocrite” when she hears herself giving stressed-out parents advice for managing their kids’ behavior issues “as if it was the easiest thing in the world to carry out.” And that’s why she says, “… having my own children has taught me that sometimes rules are made to, well, amended.”


Here are some disciplinary “rules” Goh suggests breaking in order to help reshape bad behavior in your kids:


Broken Rule #1:  “Use Time-Outs for Tantrums.” As Goh says, a lot of pediatricians recommend time outs. She even learned to teach parents how to give their kids time outs – based on their child’s age – as part of her residency. Once she had her own kids, she realized that they did not react in the way she thought they would to time outs, and in fact,  they often made the behavior worse. While she hasn’t gotten rid of time outs altogether, she has adjusted how each of her kids spends time outs to fit their personalities. For example, her son recovers from a tantrum more quickly if he spends his time out in her arms, whereas her daughter will only sit quietly and settle down during time out if Goh suggests she might miss a promised treat – a future playdate, etc. – if she continues to be uncooperative.


Broken Rule #2:  “Caregivers Should Be Consistent.” Goh agrees that any form of discipline will only work if it’s consistently used. However, she realized consistency was  a real problem at her house. Whereas she believes in organized discipline for her children, her full-time babysitter does not, preferring to try to calm Goh down when she gets frustrated with the kids’ misbehavior instead of addressing the behavior problem itself. The babysitter’s only disciplinary action happens when she believes the children are doing something that will put them in physical danger. Instead of trying to change her babysitter’s soft nature, Goh decided to accept it:  “I try to remind myself that the kids are lucky to have a babysitter who loves them tremendously. In this case, I decided to sacrifice consistency for the knowledge that my kids are in such capable and caring hands.”


Broken Rule #3:  “Give Gentle Yet Firm Reprimands.” Advice Goh gives the parents of her patients all the time is to remember “You’re the mother. You need to let your children know their limits.” And she tries to follow that advice most of the time, especially on weekends, when she tries to prevent them from watching too much TV or eating too many sweets. However, because she lives in the real world, after an exhausting day of breaking up fights and trying to get her kids’ cooperation, her fuse is short, and sometimes she catches herself raising her voice for “misdemeanors” that “seem so inconsequential in retrospect.” And, it can make her feel like a bad mom (we’ve all been there!). But Goh encourages parents to give themselves a break and realize something she, herself has realized:  “Despite all the difficulties of disciplining my kids and my intermittent weak moments and my outright mistakes, I really want them to know how much I love them … And discipline isn’t just about doing whatever it takes to avoid arguments, tantrums, and messes; it’s about raising caring and respectful people overall.”


Incidentally, Dr. Goh also keeps a personal blog about her parenting struggles. Check it out!


We’d also like to invite you to take a listen to our song “Mac & Cheese,” a special serenade for demanding kids everywhere!   xo — Amelia