Habit And Behaviour

Parenting – Habits and Behaviour

There are some things that our children need to learn just so that we all get along together. The big issues for most parents are that our children should learn to:

Use a toilet

Sleep through the night

Behave reasonably well in public and private

Sometimes we feel so anxious about these goals that we actually make it harder for our children to achieve them.

This chapter helps you to step back a bit and see how you are managing.

Toilet Training

What to expect:

Children get bladder and bowel control when theyre physically ready for it and want to be dry and clean. The time varies, so its best not to compare your child with others.

Most children can control their bowels before their bladders.
By the age of two, one in two children are dry during the day.
By the age of three, nine out of ten children are dry most days. Even then all children have the odd accident, especially when theyre excited or upset or absorbed in doing something.

Learning to stay dry throughout the night usually takes a child a little longer than staying dry during the day. He or she has to respond to the sensation of having a full bladder while asleep either by waking up and going to the toilet, or holding on until morning. Although most children do learn this between the ages of three and five, it is estimated that:

A quarter of three-year-olds wet the bed.
One in six five-year-olds wet the bed.

Learing to use a potty

When to start

It helps to remember that you cant and shouldnt try to force your child to use a potty. In time he or she will want to use it. Your child will not want to go to school in nappies any more than you would want him or her to. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to encourage the behaviour you want.

Many parents seem to begin potty training around 18 to 24 months, but theres no particular time when success is guaranteed.

Its probably easier to start in the summer, when washing dries better and there are fewer clothes to take off.

Try to work out when your child is ready. Most children go through three stages in developing bladder control.

They become aware of having a wet or dirty nappy.

They get to know when they are peeing, and may tell you theyre doing it!

They know when they need to pee, and may say so in advance.

Youll probably find that potty training is fastest if your child is at the last stage before you start. If you start earlier, be prepared for a lot of accidents as your child learns.
What to do

Leave the potty around where your child can see it and get to know what its for. If there are older children around, he or she may see them using it and their example will be a great help.

Let your child see you using the toilet and explain what youre doing.

If your child regularly opens his or her bowels at the same time each day, take off the nappy and suggest that he or she tries going in the potty. If your child is the slightest bit upset by the idea just put the nappy back on and leave it a few more weeks before trying again.

As soon as you see that your child knows when he or she is going to pee, try the same thing. If your child slips up, just mop it up and wait for next time. It usually takes a while for your child to get the hang of it and the worst thing you can do is to make your child feel worried about the whole thing.

Your child will be delighted when he or she succeeds and a little praise from you will make it better still, but dont make a big deal of it and dont use sweets as a reward. You may end up causing more problems than you solve.
When the times right, your child will want to use the potty.

Problems with toilet training:

Wet children in the day

If your child shows no interest in using the potty, dont worry. Remind yourself that, in the end, your child will want to be dry for him or herself. If your child starts to see the whole business as a battle of wills with you itll be much harder.

Take the pressure off. This might mean giving up the potty and going back to nappies for a while, or just living a wet life and not letting it get you or your child down. It might help to talk to someone about the best action. What you dont want to do is to confuse your child by stopping and starting too often.

Show your child that youre pleased and help your child to be pleased when he or she uses the potty or toilet or manages to stay dry, even for a short time. Be gentle about accidents. You need to explain that its not whats wanted. Do your best not to show irritation or to nag. Once a child becomes worried, the problem often gets worse.

If your child has been dry for a while (night or day) and then starts wetting again, there may be an emotional reason such as a new baby or new house.

Be understanding and sympathetic. Your child will almost certainly be upset about the lapse and will not be doing it on purpose.

By the time your child starts school he or she is likely to be just as upset by wetting as you are, so do all you can not to be angry. Your child needs to know youre on his or her side. He/she will want to know that you will help to solve what is now your childs problem more than yours. You can also obtain helpful information from The Enuresis Resource and Information Centre (ERIC).

Bedwetting up to the age of five is considered normal, and treatment is not usually given. You may, however, find the following measures helpful if your four or five-year-old wets the bed.

Try not to get angry or irritated with your child.

Protect the mattress with a good plastic protective cover.

Check whether your child is afraid to get up at night would a night- light or potty in the room help?

Dont cut back on fluids as the bladder tends to adjust and holds less. It is better for your child to drink around six or seven cups of fluid during the day so that his or her bladder learns to hold a larger capacity. However, avoid giving fizzy drinks, citrus juices and those with caffeine such as tea, cola and chocolate before your child goes to bed as these can stimulate the kidneys to produce more fluid.

If your child is constipated, this can also irritate the bladder at night.

Constipation and soiling

Your baby or child is constipated if he or she doesnt empty the bowel properly (some stool stays inside) when going to the toilet. The stool is usually, but not always, hard and difficult to pass. The stools may also look like little pellets.

Another sign of constipation can be if pants are soiled with diarrhoea or very soft stools. This may happen because there is not enough fibre in your childs diet to keep things moving, or it can be something that starts as an emotional problem. Drinking too much milk can also cause constipation.

Once a child is really constipated, even if passing a stool isnt painful, they lose the sensation of wanting to go to the toilet and it needs professional help to sort out.

If your child becomes constipated, stools can become painful to pass out. The pain means that your child will then hold back even more, become more constipated, have more pain, and so on. Its important to stop this spiral. Ask your health visitor or GP to recommend a suitable laxative. If it doesnt solve the problem quickly, talk to your GP.

Once the initial problem has been sorted out, its important to stop it coming back. Make sure your child eats plenty of fibre. Fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread or chapattis, wholegrain breakfast cereals, baked beans, frozen peas and sweetcorn are good sources of fibre, and children often like them. Also give lots to drink clear drinks rather than milk. All this will help to prevent constipation.

If dietary changes arent helping, consider whether something could be upsetting your child. A young child may be afraid of using the potty. Be reassuring. Let your child be with you when you go to the toilet. And try to be as relaxed as you can be about it.


In some families, children simply go to bed when theyre ready, or at the same time as their parents. Some parents are happy to cuddle their children off to sleep every night. But others want bedtime to be more organised and early enough to give their children a long sleep, and some child – free time for themselves.

How much sleep is needed?

Like adults, the sleep patterns of babies and children vary. From birth, some babies need more or less sleep than others, but below are the average amounts needed in 24 hours, including naps in the day.

Newborns to three months. A newborn baby spends roughly the same amount of time asleep as awake, but may spend as many as 1618 hours asleep out of 24 asleep, or as little as 8. Inevitably, sleep will be disturbed by the need for night feeds. Problems such as being too hot or too cold, may also disturb your babys sleep.

Three to six months. As your baby grows, the need for night feeds becomes less frequent and periods of sleep get longer. Some babies will sleep for around eight hours or even longer at night and, by four months, may spend on average twice as long asleep at night as they do during the day.

Six to twelve months. At this age, night feeds are no longer necessary, and some babies may even sleep for up to 12 hours at a stretch at night. However, teething discomfort or hunger may cause some babies to wake during the night.

By twelve months, babies sleep for about 1215 hours altogether.

A two-year-old may sleep for about 1112 hours at night, with one or two naps in the day.

Most three-to four-year-olds need about 12 hours sleep, but some may need only 8 or 10 hours, and others, 14. Some may need a nap in the day.

Regular Bedtimes

Some future sleep problems may be avoided if you can establish a simple and soothing bedtime routine early. This can include a bath, changing into night clothes, feeding, cuddling, then putting to bed.

Put your baby down awake rather than getting him or her to sleep by rocking or cuddling in your arms. Otherwise your baby may not learn to fall asleep in the cot, and may need nursing back to sleep if he or she wakes up again.

As your child gets older, keeping to a similar bedtime routine is also important. This should include a winding down period and the avoidance of excitement and over-stimulation before bedtime.

An example of a routine could be:

Bath time, and put in night clothes

A milky drink or supper

Brushing of teeth

A bedtime story

Making sure your childs comforter such as a dummy, cuddly toy or security blanket is nearby

A goodnight kiss and cuddle

Leaving a dim light on if necessary

Sleep Problems

What is a sleep problem for one family, may not be one for another. If you are happy for your baby to go to bed at the same time as you, or for your child to sleep in your bed, thats fine.

If however you or your child are suffering from lack of sleep because your child will not go to bed or wakes during the night, you may like to try some of the following suggestions.

Decide what time you want your child to go to bed, and establish a bedtime routine.

Avoid excitement or noisy games near bedtime and have a winding down period.

If a very late bedtime has been established, gradually reduce this by 1530 minutes each night until you reach the time the child is to go to bed.

Put your child to bed and set limits on the amount of time spent with him or her. For example, read one story only, then tuck your child in and say goodnight.

Make sure your child has a dummy, if used, favourite toy, or comforter before settling into bed.

Leave a crying child for five to ten minutes before going back in. Resettle your child down again. Dont pick him or her up or take him/her downstairs again. Put a child who gets up back to bed.

Leave a drink of water within reach, and a dim light on if necessary.

Dont keep checking to see if your child is asleep.

Be prepared to repeat this routine for several nights. The important thing is to be firm and not to give in.
Waking during the night

By the time your child is six months old it is reasonable to expect him or her to sleep through most nights. However, up to half of all children under five go through periods of night waking. Some will just go back to sleep on their own, others will cry or want company. If this happens try to think why your child is waking up and decide what you want to do about it.

For example:

Is it hunger? A later feed or some cereal last thing at night might help your baby to sleep through the night.

If your child seems afraid of the dark, a nightlight should be given.

Is your child waking from fears or bad dreams? If so, try to find the reason.

Is your child too hot or too cold? If so the bedclothes or heat should be adjusted.

If no cause is found, and your child continues to wake and cry, or wants company, here are some suggestions for coping.
Sleep with your child

Some parents like doing this anyway. If you have two children sharing one bedroom, and one is likely to wake the other, it can be the only answer. You may worry that itll become a habit, and its true that it may. But if its a way of getting some sleep, that may be all that matters. Its possible to move some children back to their own beds once theyve fallen asleep again and you may be able to teach your child to sleep alone when he or she is old enough to understand what you want.

Let your child sleep in the same room as a brother or sister

If you think your child is lonely, and the brother or sister does not object, putting children in the same room can often result in them both sleeping through the night.

Teach your child to fall back to sleep alone:-

Check everything is all right and settle your child down with the minimum of talking.

Do not give anything to eat, and only water to drink if necessary.

Do not take your child downstairs or into the parental bed.

Leave your child and let him or her cry for a short period.

Repeat the above routine, gradually extending the time period before checking.

Continue the routine each night until your child sleeps.

Be prepared for this routine to take several nights or even a week or two before it is effective.


Tantrums may start around 18 months, are common around two years, and are much less common at four. One in five two-year-olds have a temper tantrum at least twice a day. One reason is that around this age children often want to express themselves more than they are able. They feel frustrated and the frustration comes out as a tantrum. Once a child can talk more, tantrums often lessen.

Tantrums tend to happen when children are tired or hungry. Sleep or food might be the answer.

If sleep or food isnt the answer, try to work out the reason and tackle that. It may be frustration. It may be something like jealousy. More time, attention and love, even when your child is not so lovable, can help.

Even if you cant be sure why your child has a temper tantrum, try to understand and accept the anger your child is feeling. You probably feel the same way yourself very often. If you think about that, you may be better able to accept your childs feelings.

When a tantrum is starting, try to find an instant distraction. Find something to look at, out of the window for example. Make yourself sound really surprised and interested in it.

If your child has a tantrum, try sitting it out. Dont lose your temper or shout back. Ignore the looks you get from people around you. Stay as calm as you can, try not to get involved, but dont give in. If youve said no, dont change your mind and say yes just to end the tantrum. If you do change your mind, your child will think that tantrums pay. For the same reason, dont buy your way out with sweets or treats. If youre at home, you could try walking away into another room.

Tantrums often seem to happen in shops. This can be really embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it extra hard to cope and stay calm. Keep shopping trips short. You could start by going out to buy one or two things only, and then build up from there. Once youve managed one quick trip without trouble, youre beginning to make progress.

Some parents find it helps to hold their child, quite firmly, until the tantrum passes although a struggling child can be hard to contain. This usually only works when your child is more upset than angry, and when you yourself are feeling calm and able to talk gently and reassuringly.


A child who is aggressive can cause parents a lot of anxiety, but most young children will occasionally bite or hit someone or push another child. So, if your child is sometimes aggressive, this does not mean he or she is going to grow up like this. Toddlers are also curious and may not understand that biting or pulling hair hurts. However, if your child is being aggressive he or she needs to understand that this is not acceptable. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.

  • Don’t hit, bite or kick back. It makes behaving like that seem all right. You can still make it clear that it hurts and you won’t allow it.
  • If you’re with other children say you’ll leave, or ask others to leave, if the behaviour continues – and do it!
  • If the behaviour is directed at you at home and your warning is ignored, place your child in another room, where it is safe for them to be, for a short period.
  • Talk. Children often go through patches of insecurity or upset and let their feelings out by being aggressive – at playgroup, for example. If by talking you can find out what’s worrying your child, you may be able to help.
  • Try to show your child how much you love him or her, even though you don’t love the way he or she is behaving. Children who are being aggressive aren’t so easy to love. But extra love may be what’s needed.
  • Help your child let his or her feelings out some other way. Find a big space, like a park, and encourage your child to run and to shout to get rid of the angry feelings inside. Just letting your child know that you recognise the feelings will make it easier for him or her to express them without hurting anyone else.
  • If you are seriously concerned about your child’s behaviour, talk to your health visitor or doctor.

Over Activity

There is no doubt that a substantial proportion of children are overactive and some may be described as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as this condition is now called. But quite a lot of children who are difficult to manage, and who have problems concentrating are not necessarily overactive too. Alternatively, some children may suffer from a mild form of hyperactivity only. So, the difficulty for parents, and sometimes for health professionals, is deciding what are normal behaviour problems in a child and what are symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which require early treatment and management.

Below are some tips on managing an active child. If these, or the other information in this chapter on dealing with difficult behaviour, do not help then talk to your health visitor or GP. You can also obtain information from the Hyperactive Childrens Support Group.

Keep to a daily routine as much as you can. Routine can be important if your child is restless or difficult. Routine may also help you stay calmer and stand up better to the strain.

Make giving your child time and attention a part of the routine. In different ways, your child may be demanding your attention most of the day, if not most of the night as well. A lot of the time youll have to say no. This is easier to say, and may be easier for your child to accept, if there are certain times each day when you do give all your attention to your child

Avoid difficult situations as much as you can for example, by keeping shopping trips short. Its often no good even expecting an overactive difficult child to sit still at meals or behave well in a supermarket. Try lowering your expectations. Start by asking your child to be still, or controlled, or to concentrate, for a very short time. Then gradually build up.

Try to get out every day to a place where your child can run around and really let go. Go to a park, or a playground, or whatever safe, open space there is. Find ways of helping your child burn off energy.

Try cutting out cola drinks, tea and coffee. These drinks all contain caffeine. Some children are sensitive to this and it can make them jumpy. So you could try cutting them out and see if it helps.