At what age should I be implementing management for behaviour?
'At what age should I be implementing (to a degree) management for behaviour... like when my 10 month old throws things on the floor from her high chair... or spitting food out.. some people say she's too young and some people say start teaching her not to.'
Thank you so much for this question!
Here's why I think you're a little unsure on how to support your little one's behaviour – I'm wondering if as you've grown up you see management of behaviour as kind of 'telling off' or 'getting in trouble' for doing things. Which I wouldn't really recommend at any age to be honest. It denies the opportunity for teaching, and just alters behaviour based on a child's fear of retribution, rather than understanding why we actually do or don't engage in particular behaviours.
I wonder if I can help reshape the way you think about behaviour and add a new idea – let's shift our idea from telling off to teaching what we want to see. I always see behaviour management as opportunities for teaching and connecting with our children!
If you are able to re-conceptualise this idea of behaviour management, you'll see how you can apply these teaching opportunities all through the day with children in all different age groups.
Let's unpack this behaviour more specifically: for your 10 month old throwing/spitting food, this behaviour is in the first instance just an exploration of what she actually has the capability to do. Imagine only being 10 months old! You are only just learning that you even have limbs, let alone what you can do with them.
What happens after this exploratory behaviour is the deciding factor as to whether the exploration is simply that, or if it turns into something different. What happens a lot of the time with throwing is that as parents we fall back on a response which we heard when we were younger – phrases like 'don't throw your food!'.
This instantly turns the throwing from 'I wonder what happens if I do this with my body' to 'Oh wow, when I do this, I get this interesting reaction from mum!'
It's fine if you've created this interesting reaction. Life is essentially a whole series of interesting reactions..!
Here's specifically what I would say when your little one does these behaviours:
'Throwing your food (or spitting out your food) is telling me you're all finished, so I'm going to take your plate away now. If you'd like some more food, you can show me you're ready by sitting in your chair.'
'If you'd like something to throw, you can throw this ball instead.'
This way, you're teaching your little one that this behaviour isn't an appropriate thing to do at the table, and you're also giving them somewhere where they can do that in an appropriate way.
I hope this helps!
If you've got your own behaviour questions, please shoot them to firstname.lastname@example.org!