October 18, 2018


Praising and encouraging your children will likely make you feel less stressed about your parenting duties.

Anthea Rhodes, University of Melbourne

Around one-quarter of Australian parents feel stressed by their child’s behaviour every day and more than one-third are overwhelmed by it. These are some of the findings released today from our latest Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll – an online quarterly survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,000 Australian households with children.

The poll also reveals many parents are confused about how often their children should be on their best behaviour and that a concerning number of parents use physical discipline to manage their children.

Parenting is a tough gig and perfection is an unrealistic goal. It’s important for parents to remember they are not alone, and there are always strategies that can help. Here are four things the poll shows us each parent should know.

1. Parenting is stressful

Our poll found one in four parents (27%) feel stressed by their child’s behaviour every day, with two-thirds (69%) feeling stressed at least once a week. Almost half of parents (45%) said they spent a lot of time thinking about how to manage their child’s behaviour and a third (32%) said they often felt overwhelmed by the issue.

You’re not alone if you feel stressed about you child’s behaviour.
from shutterstock.com

All parents experience stress as they attempt to meet the challenges of caring for their children. But high levels of parenting stress can also make child behaviour problems worse. Parenting websites such as raisingchildren.net.au contain tips on ways to recognise and reduce stress, which can help parents cope with the daily challenges of parenthood.

Almost half of parents (45%) said they were not confident they would know where to get help managing their child’s behaviour if they needed it. Advice and support from the GP, child health nurse or another health professional can help.

Read more:
‘No, I don’t wanna… wahhhh!’ A parent’s guide to managing tantrums

2. Your child may be acting their age, not misbehaving

Children behave in different ways depending on their age, temperament, developmental stage and the situation. Yet one third of parents believe children should always be on their best behaviour, suggesting they have unrealistic expectations about a child’s capacity to behave in certain ways.

It is normal for a toddler to have difficulty regulating their emotions and have tantrums in response to overwhelming situations. Testing limits, like having strong opinions about eating or resisting bedtime, is also a normal developmental stage for preschoolers.

As teenagers journey towards becoming independent, they will challenge parent opinion and negotiate around decision-making.

Even adults cannot be expected to be on their best behaviour all the time, so we certainly can’t expect this of our children.

Read more:
How to discipline your children without rewards or punishment

3. Praise works better than punishment

Our study found that most parents use positive strategies such as praise and rewards to promote “good” behaviour. No matter how old children are, praise and encouragement will help them feel good about themselves. This boosts their self-esteem and confidence.

Praise works best to encourage desired behaviour when it is genuine and task specific – that is, when you tell your child exactly what it is they have done well. This is sometimes called “descriptive praise”. Saying “I like the way you shared your toys with your brother” is more effective than non-specific praise such as: “You’re a good girl”.

Physical discipline is not the best way to manage a child’s behaviour.
Royal Children’s Hospital, Author provided

A concerning proportion of parents report using negative or punitive strategies to manage their child’s behaviour. According to parent’s reports in our study, 4% of children have been physically disciplined “quite a lot or most of the time” in the past month, 13% “some of the time” and a further 24% “rarely”.

Physical discipline was defined as anything done to cause physical pain or discomfort to a child in response to their behaviour including smacking, hitting, spanking, slapping, pinching or pulling.

Research shows physical discipline can be harmful to a child’s physical and psychological well-being. Research also shows children who experience physical punishment are more likely to develop aggressive behaviour themselves.

Physical discipline is also a less effective strategy for encouraging desired behaviour because it focuses on what not to do rather than modelling or reinforcing desired behaviour.

Read more:
A wake-up call for parents who smack their children

4. Lots of parents lose their cool, but saying sorry helps

Almost half of parents (48%) said they became impatient too quickly, and one in three (36%) said they often lost their temper and later felt guilty. These feelings were more common among parents who reported using physical discipline more often.

When things are getting heated, it can be helpful to hit the pause button. Take a minute to breathe, step back, even walk away if possible. Try to see things from your child’s point of view and understand they don’t have the ability to reason and rationalise things like an adult.

Not every parent is perfect.
Royal Children’s Hospital, Author provided

And if you do cross the line, take the time to reflect on what happened so you can recognise when things are heading this way again and intervene. It’s OK to say sorry to your child if you have lost your cool, as this will help them understand what has happened and it is modelling respectful behaviour too.

Read more:
Should we swear in front of our kids?

The Conversation

Anthea Rhodes, Paediatrician and Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Health, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  • Praise does indeed work with children.


  • To be a parent or a grandparent or even a career all you need is love and imagination. My weekend with my grandkids is always planned. We play outside, we sleep in tents on the lawn we toast marshmallows,we wash the dogs ,draw on the pavement with washable chalk and we play dress up. I have some photos yet most of of grandchildren days are in my heart for the rest of my life.


  • Lots of great hints and tips here. I wish I had been a better parent. It’s really hard sometimes


  • No-one is perfect and we all have off moments we wished we could take back. Children know when they are loved and they are forgiving. Mums and Dads just have to forgive themselves too. As long as the good times are more than the bad then you are doing a good job.


  • Parenting is always a work-in-progress. We do the best we can in our family and it can be dependent on the day, mood, situation, etc. on how we will manage things but we’re always doing our best and our son knows that.


  • It is hard being a parent and we are all learning. When I get frustrated at my daughter I explain that to her and she says “it’s ok mummy we can learn together”. Praise is good but sometimes you have to take a different tact too.


  • I think it’s harder being a parent these days. There’s less help from the neighbours and extended family, and everyone has an opinion on your parenting!


  • Great tips. We all need a little reminder to keep the basics in mind!


  • 4 basic tips indeed, praise and positive rewards being the most important in my opinion. Also getting help when needed is essential. I struggle with my 8yr old (foster). She steals and lies nearly daily. Help from gp, psychologist, pediatrician and psychiatrist certainly help me not to give up and stay positive. At the moment I do a Reparative Parenting Course at the Redbank Alternate Clinic, which also helps.


  • Great tips. I agree on praising positive behaviour and explaining to kids why it’s wrong vs just shouting at them


  • My Mum used to that she didn’t mind as much if we were naughty at home. If necessary she could calmly talk to us about it, explain why what we had said or done wasn’t acceptable. When we were little we were told it wasn’t nice. Better than having to correct us while we were out and about. Sometimes if we were at somebody’s house she would frown at us rather than make a big deal about it. Often we realised and stopped what we were doing. Like all kids we learnt a few bad habits at school. Sometimes we would say “….does it” Her reply was often “just because …..does it doesn’t mean it is right or nice” or something similar. My parents always explained what we did wrong and explained that we not allowed to do it again.


  • I agree with all four of these.


  • They’re 4 basic things, I was expecting a much more in depth list


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