Our guest blogger, and parenting expert, psychotherapist Joanna Fortune shares her practical ideas on how you can calm down when your young child pushes your buttons – so you can help them to regulate their own behaviour!

This is not what you want, but we have all been there!

Anyone who has attended my talks, or clinical consultations, knows that I’ve never been an advocate of the Time-out. I prefer to talk about how, in order to be most effective, discipline must aim to teach the behaviour parents want to see from their child, rather than punishing the behaviour they don’t want to see.

However, giving yourself a 5-10 minute “time-out” before you react to your child’s negative behaviour may well be a good idea.  It can be very difficult to stay calm yourself when your child or children are acting out.  Their behaviour may even be pushing an emotional button in you, making it more likely that you will snap and yell at your child.  This will not diffuse the situation, moreover, it will only serve to escalate it.
Our children, especially the littler ones under 7 years old, will struggle to self-regulate their emotions.  They look to their parents and caregivers to co-regulate their emotions with them.  What this means is that if your child is “losing it” and they manage to make you “lose it” with them, they cannot co-regulate with your rage and as such their behaviour will likely escalate until one or other of you lash out, verbally or otherwise.  This will not help anyone and will leave you both feeling pretty rotten afterwards.  Now, none of us are saints but we are the grownups in charge and need to take steps to ensure we stay in this role.  This means we have to spot when we feel our tempers rising and ensure we do not react in those moments - but remove ourselves until we are calm enough to respond in a more positive way.  This is the value of a parental time-out.  Never just walk away from your child but say “I don’t want to lose my temper with you, so I need 5 minutes on my own to take deep breaths and then I am coming back to talk about this with you”.  If you feel you can take the 5 minutes breathing in front of them, better again as you are modelling a positive self-soothing behaviour.

Once calmer, return to the situation and try to hold in mind that the most effective discipline is discipline that seeks to teach the type of behaviours you want to see -rather than punishing the type of behaviours you don’t want to see. 
Give do-overs: Say something like “I think you forgot how we behave towards each other.  Do you want to try that again?” and if they do it correctly/better second time, praise that and move on.  If they don’t you will have to issue a consequence.
Consequences: Make these logical yet creative and try to deal with them in the moment.  For example, if you have two children squabbling, separate them and have them make each other a card with 3 things they like about each other and exchange the cards.  If they do this quickly or choose to take a long time, it is up to them. Your aim is to switch them from thinking about what they don’t like about each other to what they do like.


Help them understand the feelings behind the behaviours: Young children need us to help them make sense of their emotional experiences.  ACT is a good way to do this.  For example:
Acknowledge the feeling “I know that you are angry because your brother grabbed your toy”.
Communicate a limit “We do not hit people in this family”.
Target an alternative behaviour “If you want to hit something, hit that cushion over there”.
Use distraction over discipline: Very young children (under 4 years old) struggle to ‘do’ cause and effect, so they struggle to connect your disciplining them with their behaviour.  Instead use distraction, which does not mean ignoring the behaviour.  So, come to their eye level (holding their hands), in a firm yet gentle voice clearly say “no hitting” and then (still holding hands) bring them over to the building blocks and ask them to build a structure just like the one you are making, for example.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues. See
Joanna recently hosted a series of successful talks for Kildare County Childcare Committee.

Do you find it difficult to communicate with parents on sensitive subjects?

Are you afraid to bring up such subjects with parents for this reason?

You are not alone, anecdotally lots of childcare service providers feel this way.

Here are some tips on how to handle these issues:

  1. Always respect the parents position – this is their child you are talking about, it is natural for them to feel defensive and difficult for them to see the matter objectively.
  2. Try not to seem ‘condescending’ towards parents – for example use language parents will be familiar with, rather than technical terminology.
  3. Address the issue when it first arises. Use your policies and procedures/ parents handbook to back you up where necessary, hopefully this will help prevent issues from escalating in the first place.
  4. Try and find an appropriate space for the discussion, for example discussing a sensitive matter at the door at collection time may not be appropriate and puts the parent under stress if the child is there/ if they are in a rush. Try to schedule a suitable time and find a quiet place to talk.
  5. If the issue is regarding behaviour, for example, try to help the parent – offer support and suggestions as to how the parent can help deal with the issue. A useful strategy is if the service and the parents can agree on how to deal with the problem, ensuring consistency between home and the childcare/ playschool setting.
  6. Make sure you listen to the response of the parent and try to find common ground (*as suggested in ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs’, link to article below). Reassure the parent that you both have the child’s best interest at heart.
  7. Try to leave the discussion with a plan if possible or at least an understanding between yourself and the parents.


Useful Resources

Have a look through these articles, they contain some good practical advice as well as general ideas:

Aistear; the early childhood curriculum framework ‘Building partnerships between parents and practitioners’:

Barnardos ‘Parental involvement, a handbook for childcare providers’

*Childcare Resources Inc ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs: How to Communicate with Families’:

Clouducation ‘10 Best Strategies for dealing with difficult parents’: 

Illinois Early Learning Project ‘Resource List. Communicating with Parents During Sensitive or Difficult Situations’: (particularly useful on broaching developmental delay and other related topics)

Siolta Research Digest ‘Standard 3. Parents and Families’:

Zero to three ‘How to communicate with parents’:


We all know that for children entering a preschool/ childcare setting for the first time it can be daunting enough. Add to this the introduction of a completely new language, and often a new cultural situation and you can see why settling in is more difficult for these children.

As parents from other cultures understandably value their child speaking their own language and aim for them to become bilingual it is often in preschool that children encounter English for the first time. It is important that we understand the value of bilingualism for the child, while supporting them to eventually use English on a daily basis in our services.

You will see below that there are some great practical resources available which you can use with children in your services.

For children who are encountering a new language there seems to be agreement that language learning goes through a number of phases:

– speaking the home language (the child realises it doesn’t work)

- the silent stage (listening to the new language and learning routines)

- repetition and language play, use of formulae, routines and single words

– more complex English or productive language use eventually follows


The NCCA stress that the silent phase is not something to be overly concerned about, it is normal for children to take time to observe and listen in a completely new environment/ with a new language. It is vital at this time to provide reassurance and encouragement. If possible some use of the child’s first language is helpful at this stage. Including the child in activities with small groups of children and giving as many opportunities for child to child interaction is helpful. It is through these interactions and those with the teacher that the child will eventually learn language. At first this is seen with the use of single words and phrases, singing rhymes are also among the first use of English to be seen. It may take longer for the child to gain in confidence to use more complex English but with good support we eventually see this happening.

In the Aistear guide Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years. There are the following suggestions for the early stages:

Speak slowly and clearly. • Use pictures such as a picture-timetable to explain what is going to happen next. • Use gesture, pointing and objects to help the child understand. Encourage the children to do the same. • Identify words you use often and repeat them, for example, toilet, lunch, book and home. Have pictures of these items displayed low down so children can point to them. • Make short comments and name things that the child is interested in or is doing. • Give children extra time to respond as they will take longer to think of what to say.

Finally, patience is required, it can take children up to two years to be able to have a conversation in English, and up to five until they are fully fluent (NCCA).

Practical Resources

Integrate Ireland. English as a Second Language: Activities for very young Learners.

This activity sheet has some useful ideas for the early years’ practitioner to use with children learning English as a second language, which include:

Suggestions of play activities to learn basic language, including learning to answer ‘what is your name’, describing family, body parts, food, days of the week. Using puppets, playing games to help interact & express themselves.

Also, from the UK based Early Learning HQ, there are ideas for practical activities:

and here


Referenced in the blog:

NCCA Aistear guide. Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years.

NALDIC. Supporting bilingual children in the Early Years.

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