Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 10:53 am

Interrupting your conversations, pretending not to hear you, back chatting, and playing a little too rough with friends and siblings may all seem harmless compared to behaviours like throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, biting or swearing. But, if these seemingly small misbehaviours aren’t addressed and dealt with as soon as they happen, bigger problems may follow later on.

We spoke to educational psychologist, Kim Lazarus from the Bella Vida Centre in Bryanston to get her advice on why parents shouldn’t ignore these types of behaviour and how they can nip it in the bud.

Interrupting while you’re talking

You shouldn’t tolerate your child interrupting you while you’re on the phone or having a conversation with another adult. “You want to teach your child socially acceptable behaviour,” says Kim.
What if he interrupts his teacher at school while she’s talking without putting up his hand? If certain socially acceptable behaviours are not taught to the child at home, he will not be able to understand why he gets into trouble when he interrupts his teacher. This is confusing for the child and gives him mixed messages about what is acceptable and what is not. If your child doesn’t learn to take turns and continually interrupts his friends, no one will want to be friends with him.”
You have to let your child know that interrupting others when they are talking is not acceptable. Be consistent with this rule, no matter who you are talking to, whether it’s your partner, a friend, the nanny or one of his siblings. “Let him know that you know he has something to say to you, but he can tell you as soon as you get off the phone or when you’re done talking to your partner, friend, etc. The important thing here is to acknowledge that your child has asked you a question and that he wants to say something,” says Kim.

Playing too rough

Rough play is a normal part of growing up for kids, but things like siblings shoving each other all the time or a child pinching a friend is taking it a bit too far. “You have to enforce behaviours that are acceptable,” says Kim. “If a child learns at home that it’s ok to kick or pinch their brother or sister, they are going to take that behaviour to school and can end up being labelled as a bully.” Kim adds that if this type of behaviour isn’t addressed right away, it can create a whole bunch of social issues that can make life difficult for the child in the outside world.
Depending on how strongly you feel about this type of behaviour, decide where it lies on your scale of discipline and take it from there. “Pull your child aside and let him know that it’s not acceptable to hurt his brother or friends. Warn him that he will get into trouble if he does it again.”
Kim explains that the punishment for this type of behaviour will depend on your discipline strategy – whether it’s time out, no television or no friends over for a week.

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Pretending not to hear you

This type of behaviour is not acceptable at all. There are many situations where this type of behaviour can land your child in trouble – at school or at a friend’s house. “If your child goes to a play date and his friend’s mom asks him to please help pick up the toys – and your child ignores her or pretends not to hear her, that mom won’t want to have that child over for a play date again because that type of behaviour might have a bad influence on her child,” explains Kim.
Remember that discipline starts at home. If you enforce the rules, your children will carry them wherever they go.
“However, some children don’t always understand that they’re behaving badly, so it might help to make a behaviour chart for him. You can reward him with a star when he performs a behaviour that’s good, and a black mark for a behaviour that’s unacceptable. You can even have a special treat for him if he collects a certain amount of stars. This will help your child to learn what’s acceptable and what’s not,” explains Kim.

Having an attitude or back chatting

If you allow your child to roll her eyes at you or use a snappy tone when she talks to you, chances are that she will do it to other adults as well. “It’s ugly when a child behaves like this,” says Kim. “It almost seems as if he or she is too big for their shoes. If you allow this type of behaviour, it can give your child the sense that she’s in charge. This type of behaviour will only escalate as your child grows up and move into the teenage years if you don’t address it early on.”
Children are very receptive of their surroundings and they listen very carefully when you talk to others. “Be a role model to your child. Watch how you speak to your spouse in front of your children and try not to use an attitude if you’re having a disagreement,” says Kim. “Speak in a calm voice and avoid any attitude when the children are within hearing distance.”
It’s important to be consistent when you discipline your child for this type of behaviour. If you only discipline him when he uses and attitude with other adults, but not when he talks like that to you, he won’t understand why he is being punished. “You have to set the boundary very early on. The first time your child rolls her eyes at you or back chats, you should take the appropriate action and discipline her,” says Kim.
It’s also important to look at where this behaviour is coming from. Did your child just move schools? Is he going through a rough time at home or a big change? Are you and your partner fighting or getting divorced? “This is often where the attitude is coming from. If this is the case, you might need to handle the situation differently and talk to your child about what’s bothering him,” says Kim.