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Tips for when children start pushing boundaries

Child development

You’ve survived the sleepless baby stage, albeit with a few more wrinkles and grey hairs.

Then you managed to navigate through the 'terrible twos' with your sanity intact, feeling pretty pleased with yourself.

But now you’ve woken up wondering where your gorgeous little baby has gone, only to be replaced by a demanding, defiant four-year-old.

All children go through many stages in their development and one of the most challenging can be the stage when they decide to start pushing boundaries.

Goodstart’s national inclusive practices consultant Troy Dunn said from the ages of three to five years old, children naturally start seeking more independence from their parents, and start to test boundaries as they realise they have a voice.

They are saying “I’m a big person and I will make my own decisions”. And while they may sound like they’re in control, they are still little and likely to be overwhelmed by their big strong emotions.

They are caught between their two needs – the desire to be independent and their own person, and the need to be cared for and loved by their parents.

Rather than just giving up, there are some ways parents can positively support their child’s need for independence without always feeling like they have to give in.

“Predictability and consistency is the key when responding to children,” Mr Dunn said. “If you aren’t consistent, for example, one day you take the toy off them but the next day you are tired (the baby might have been up all night) and you change your response or ‘let it go’, it can send mixed messages to the child and that’s when they will start to question.

In public, children can tend to test the boundaries even more.

“This is because they are trying to determine if your consistency extends beyond the home and how far they can take it in an external environment,” Mr Dunn said.

Ensure your response to their behaviour is the same whether you’re at home or out and about.

“When you are heading out, we suggest you pre-plan. Chat to your child about what’s happening, where you are going and set some of the expectations – be predictable.”

Mr Dunn said it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“If mum is telling the child one thing, and dad is saying something different, the child may not know who to listen to and may get confused about expectations,” Mr Dunn said.

Tips for dealing with children pushing the boundaries

  • Be consistent. Telling children one thing one day, and then another the next day just confuses them and they’ll start to question you and assert themselves.
  • Pre-plan your outings and be predictable. Chat to your children about what’s happening, where you are going and what your expectations are.
  • Make sure the whole family is on the same page.
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