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How do we stop our oldest child from misbehaving?

I AM in need of some advice about dealing with our oldest child, a boy, who is almost five. We also have a three-and-a-half-year old boy and an eighteen-month-old girl.

The main issue is the way our oldest son is behaving, mainly at home. He can be really grown up and responsible sometimes but when he and his younger brother are left to their own devices for any longer than two minutes, all hell can break loose.

For example, they pulled the blind off the window this morning and this follows a broken car wiper last week (which cost €70 to replace). Our younger boy is no angel but he is definitely egged on by his big brother.

We have tried everything: taking toys away, no treats, cancelling outings, ignoring, shouting and all to no avail.

It's like they forget the trouble they were in and carry on wrecking the house, garden and our heads! We really feel the older boy knows exactly what he is up to while his baby brother just joins in.

He is also prone to tantrums, which we feel he should have grown out of by now. He doesn't care who witnesses these outbursts, and he gets so worked up he can't stop.

School is going well, so far, and his Montessori teacher of last year said he is very bright. We can see he has an amazing memory, and he plays well with his peers. Any advice would be great. We parents have to guide and direct our children physically by being present and looking after them

I CAN imagine that life is very busy in your home. Three children under the age of five is plenty to keep an eye on. Unfortunately for you, keeping an eye on them is one of the key tasks of parenting at their age and stage.

You talk about your four-year-old as if he is more mature than he actually is. Four, almost five, year olds are notoriously impulsive, excitable, energetic and full of divilment. He also isn't likely to be thinking very far ahead about the consequences of his behaviour. Because of this, parents just have to be constantly alert to what children this age are up to. We have to be thinking ahead on their behalf, aware of what dangers or consequences they are likely to face.

For example, he may well have been intentionally hanging out of the blind, but he may not have realised that his weight (with his brother) would lead the blind to collapse.

If you or your partner had been there you would no doubt have intervened before the blind collapsed, lifting the boys away from the blind if needed.

The two boys sound like they just want to have fun and are entirely reliant on whatever limits you set for them to keep them on track and out of mischief.

You have to regulate their behaviour for them, still, because at age three and four they cannot be expected to manage their own behaviour for long. For example, how does a four-year-old even get access to a wiper blade to break it unless he was up on the bonnet of the car? The only way to enforce a limit of "no climbing on the car" is to be vigilant and to assertively and firmly lift him down whenever he looks like he is about to climb.

It is often the case that parents set limits but then simply use commands and directions to try to enforce them. So parents may be saying "no", "don't" or "stop" but may not be backing this up with some action.

Children aged three and four are exploring the world in a very physical way. They are tasting, climbing, pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, rolling, kicking and generally physically manipulating everything they come into contact with. They don't engage with the world in an especially cerebral or overly thought- out way.

Consequently we have to guide and direct them physically too and that means being present, monitoring and intervening before their exploration causes too much damage.

Punishment for misbehaviour is not often very successful with pre-schoolers because frequently they don't make the link between their misbehaviour and the punishment. For punishment to be effective it has to occur close to the misbehaviour and be a natural consequence.

So losing out on treats or outings may be negative consequences, but by the time they are missing out, will the children still remember why they are missing out? More importantly, will they be motivated to behave better the next time or will they be just learning to be cannier and to not get caught?

Rather than constantly teaching children what not to do (with punishment) it can be far more effective to show them what you want them to do. So positive reinforcement for good behaviour pays a real dividend as children learn what is actually expected of them. Moreover, they are more likely to be motivated to behave well rather than simply trying to avoid acting boldly.

Lively, energetic boys may also need lots of opportunity to let off steam in positive ways. So don't be afraid to get them out, whatever the weather, to stomp through puddles, run through parks or whatever else will keep them out and active.

Be careful too of your expectations of your son. He is only four and so it is still quite a natural response to have a tantrum. Do any of us fully grow out of tantrums? Let's be honest, most adults probably have tantrums every so often, they just may not lie on the floor kicking and screaming. So, try to understand why he is having his tantrum. It is most likely his way of showing you that all is not well in his world. If you can catch it early enough, you may find that empathy will help to divert him from a tantrum.

Because the boys are only aged three and four, you still have to invest a lot of your time in their care and supervision. By spending a lot of really positive time with the children you will find that their behaviour improves because the opportunity to get up to mischief decreases.

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