Dr Tanya's top parenting tips

Turn your tiny terror into a little angel with advice from child behaviour specialist, Dr Tanya Byron.

House of Tine Tearaways

No one is born a natural parent! We all make mistakes along the way and it's important to realise that both you and your child are learning at the same time. Here's Dr Tanya's advice on smoothing out behavioural problems and improving your relationship with your child.

There are some great gems of wisdom here and adopting just one of these methods could make all the difference.

Be positive

"One of the biggest mistakes we make as parents, because we're so busy, is to leave our children alone and say nothing to them when they're behaving nicely. When their behaviour gets out of control, we come in with all guns blazing and they get tons of our time and tons of our attention. If we do that often enough, what children learn is that the way to get more of mummy or daddy is to start beating each other up because there is no pay-off or reward for sitting and playing nicely.

"Ignore the behaviour you don't want. Instead, emphasise the positive with cuddles, kisses, and praise, and tell them all the things they need to hear in order for them to understand they will get attention for doing things nicely. Conversely, more chat and attention when your little one is behaving badly will make things worse."

Distraction

"Firstly, you need to understand the signs that the behaviour is escalating out of control. Next, be aware of possible triggers to potential meltdown. Then, as soon as you feel the temper rising, distract them onto something else: a funny song, story, or 'did you see that green squirrel with orange stripes just fly past the window?' You may sound a bit odd but if it takes the child's attention away from destructive behaviour, who cares?"

Ignoring

"If distraction is not effective and tantrums begin, try and see if you can ignore the behaviour. Ignoring gives the message that the behaviour gets no reward and if you use this technique alongside praising every lovely behaviour, your children will get a very powerful message. Ignoring can be very difficult if you are out in public but for all those tutting bystanders as you struggle with your child having a tantrum in the supermarket, remember they've probably been there themselves - or they're fibbing!"

Time out

"As a last resort for extremely bad behaviour, you can use a technique called 'Time Out' where you put your child in a room and ignore them.

"First ask your child to stop misbehaving. If that doesn't work, ask again, but more firmly. This gives the child two chances to change his or her behaviour, and if they do, you praise them.

"If they refuse to stop the behaviour, or if the tantrum escalates, you go for Time Out. Take your child firmly but with no attention to a safe place where you can leave them for a period of one minute for each year of their life (i.e. three minutes for a three-year-old) up to a maximum of five minutes. You could try putting them on a stair or a chair, but if your child won't sit still where you've put them, you may need to put them in a room and shut the door. This is an extreme form of ignoring. You should not talk to your child through the door or give them any other form of attention during the Time Out period.

"This technique will allow everyone to calm down and prevent smacking occurring. It also very powerfully tells your child that their behaviour is completely unacceptable. Once the Time Out period is over, explain to your child why they were Timed Out and then move on and praise them at the first opportunity. Do not overuse this technique and try to ignore as much as you can.

Tantrums

"Try to prevent tantrums with praise. Imagine you've got a bucketful of praise in every room of the house with a big ladle. Every time your child does something wonderful, get that ladle and use it to shower praise. 'That is lovely, thank you darling...' or 'Oh look, you're playing so nicely.' Just tell them all the things they need to hear to get it into their head that they get attention for being lovely.

"Tantrums happen to all parents. They do not mean you are a bad parent. You can try to prevent them with praise and sticker charts. If that fails, you can try to distract the tantrums away. But once started, the best way to stop them is to ignore them.

"Remember: distract, ignore, but do not punish."

Rewards

"A good way of motivating children and avoiding tantrums is with stickers. At home, a sticker chart is a great way of encouraging good behaviour. Each time your child is good, give them a sticker. Naughty behaviour gets a 'sad face'. Points mean prizes - enough stickers get them a treat. Mini sticker charts can also work when you're out."

Positive example

"It's straightforward but it works - your children will copy you. Swear and they will swear, smack and they will smack. Lead by example."

Night-time routine

"Sleep is essential for healthy child development so establish a regular bedtime routine. Routine means bath, pyjamas, a quiet story on the sofa; the bedroom should be a no drink zone, telly off, lights out. A consistent bedtime routine will greatly benefit your children: they get the security of knowing what comes next - that bedtime is for being tucked in and sleeping. If they continue to get out of bed, gently help them back with no fuss, chat or attention - however many times it takes - until the message is clear. They get a gold star and a treat in the morning if they sleep through."

Going out needn't be a nightmare

"Try engaging your children in what's going on and motivate them to behave well. If they demand toys or start whingeing, distract them and, if necessary, ignore them. If you can overcome the red face, ignoring is a very powerful tool but you need nerves of steel! Stay calm, feel in control and you'll have a nice day."

Structure and stimulation

"Children need stimulation and parents are the number one playmate - try to spend some playtime with your children every day. Too much TV can lead children to become passive recipients, hampering social, emotional and educational development. Children want parental attention - by decreasing the amount of TV they watch, children become more aware of the world around them and concentration should improve. Try less TV in the daytime, more walks and trips to the playground. Play games, sing songs, read stories - but above all, enjoy your children!"