Behaviour in Children – Why is it Happening?

Currently, I have a toddler (two and a half going on fifteen!) I must admit, it is slightly different dealing with behaviours in your own children. I mean, the logistics are the same, but its rather tiring having to be on top of things 100% of the time (and impossible!) It is much easier to swoop in as a Therapist, for a one hour session and give parents rules of what needs to be done.

One thing I find helpful is something that I stumbled upon a while back while preparing for a  workshop on Challenging Behaviours in children, and I try to remember to apply this with my little girl when trying to figure out why she is behaving like a troll (besides the fact that she is only two!)

S – Sensory – My little girl is a hurricane. She. Never. Stops! And often, she will act up when she has not been active enough (cue rainy day inside) or has not had enough sensory input. Some ideas for this kind of input:


  • Spinning in circles.
  • Using a Merry-Go-Round.
  • Rolling down a hill.
  • Spinning on a swing.
  • Going upside down.
  • Climbing trees.
  • Rocking.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Summersaults or cartwheels.
  • Using monkey bars.
  • Skating.
  • Going backwards.
  • Swimming.
  • Dancing.
  • Wheel-barrel walks.


  • Carrying or lifting boxes.
  • Pushing or pulling a wagon.
  • Build a fort.
  • Rake leaves.
  • Shovel snow.
  • Pick up and put down heavy sticks.
  • Dig in the dirt.
  • Carry buckets of sand or water.
  • Give hugs.
  • Knead playdoh
  • Jump on a trampoline.
  • Chewing on something
  • Squeezing a stress ball
  • Playing Tug-O-War with a stretchy band

E – Escape – Children act up when they want to escape something that they do not enjoy (cue running around the house naked / hiding when it is time to bath).

A – Attention – MASSIVE ONE in our house! When children want attention or get attention for misbehaving (even negative attention is great) the behaviour will often continue. My little one went through a good week or two of hitting. She would hit or kick, Mom and Dad would stop what they were doing, reprimand, time-out was sometimes used etc. etc. etc. Eventually, after trying many consequences, we started ignoring the behaviour and voila, it stopped. Make sure you are giving your child enough quality attention during play and while they are behaving, appropriately and they won’t need to use tactics to gain it otherwise.

T- Tangible – When children want something, they may misbehave to get it (toddlers grabbing toys from one another etc.) This is a great opportunity to intervene and model appropriate ways to access things.

This is obviously not the be-all and end-all of cracking behaviours , but it can be really helpful when trying to figure out what has caused the acting out.

Tyla x


Playing out Feelings

Remember, small children rarely have the language and emotional maturity to voice what they are feeling. Playing helps them to work through their emotions and process their days appropriately. Be a part of this process 🙂

How many times have you tried to talk with your child about a problem without success? Many well-intentioned parents and therapists share in a similar experience: time after time, the words just don’t seem to reach your child. Play therapy is an evidence-based treatment approach that targets the medium of communication which is developmentally appropriate for children. That medium is play.

Play has long been considered the language of children. It is the way in which children explore their experiences, feelings, and integrate themselves with their world. Play therapy builds on the developmental task of play as the therapist supports the child in using the play to resolve problems. Engagement in play therapy allows children to experience (in the present) control and gain mastery. This feeling of control is necessary for the child’s healthy emotional development.


1. The ability to process emotions that they may not be able to express in other ways

Children do not always have the language skills to convey what they are feeling in words, especially if they experience traumatic events at very young ages. Instead, they may express their pain in ways that are undesirable or maladaptive, such as exhibiting defiance, having severe tantrums, crying frequently, becoming socially withdrawn, being unusually clingy, or refusing to attend school. In play therapy, the therapist provides children with a more adaptive method of express themselves – the language of play. Play therapists are specially trained to understand, interpret, and respond to children’s play communications and to increase parents’ abilities to “talk” to their children through play

2. A decrease in undesirable behaviours and an increased capacity regulate their own     behavior

Once children begin to express their feelings through play, you will begin to see a decrease in unwanted behaviors. Further, play therapy will help your child develop skills that allow them to manage their own behaviours. In the play therapy sessions, your child will be given opportunities to test limits in a safe environment, allowing them to increase their awareness of the consequences of their actions. For example, your child may choose to smash their clay creation, but will then learn that once they have destroyed what they made, they will no longer have it. These lessons teach children to make thoughtful decisions.

 3. Development of independence and creative thinking

Children often spend a large part of their day being told what to do. Of course, this is necessary, as there are many decisions that children cannot yet make for themselves. However, it is also crucial that children learn to think for themselves. This is especially true for children who are emotionally vulnerable or have experienced traumas or significant life changes, as they may feel an acute lack of control over their lives. In play therapy, your child is the leader. For the most part, they control what happens in the room by selecting the activities that they participate in. Play therapy provides your child with the opportunity to make choices for themselves in a supportive environment. The play therapy room is a nonjudgmental space where your child can express him or herself freely.

4. Improvement of social skills and the ability to respect others

Play therapy is about your child, but it is also about your child’s relationship with the therapist. In the trusting relationship that your child will develop with their therapist, your child will have the opportunity to test out different aspects of social interactions with the therapist without fear of permanently damaging the relationship. For example, your child may choose whether to cheat during a board game to explore how the therapist will react, and the therapist can explore this choice with your child. The toys in the play therapy are also specially selected to allow your child to explore different social roles, such as nurturing baby dolls or dressing up as a police officer. Play therapy will help your child to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people, and this understanding will transfer over to relationships with family and friends.

5. Stronger relationships with family members

Although the play therapist is a trained professional, they are not the most important person in your child’s therapy. YOU are the most important person in your child’s therapy, and the most important person in their life! Although you may not be in the room while therapy takes place, you will be an active participant in your child’s therapy by bringing them to sessions, meeting with the therapist as needed, and supporting your child in implementing the skills they learn in therapy at home. One of the most important goals of play therapy is to make your relationship with your child the best it can be. It can be very difficult and stressful to parent a child who is exhibiting distress. Play therapy will reduce this distress, providing you with more opportunity to simply enjoy spending time with your child.

Feel free to contact me with any further questions.

Tyla x


Starting School!

My little girl has just started school after 2.5 years at home with me.  I am not sure who is battling more. We’ve had tears every morning (pretty much from both sides)  and I must admit, it has been a challenge for me to let go and give someone else control in comforting her and making her happy. It is also hard to take all of my knowledge and training and apply it to my own child. Being a Therapist goes out of the window when you are a Mama. I just want to scoop her up and high-tail it out of there to go on one of our usual adventures. But, I have to keep in mind that this is best for her, even if it does not feel that way initially . If you too are battling with the school transition, the following tips may help in making things a little easier:

  1. Role Play – Parents often feel silly doing these exercises but trust me, your kids love them and it really helps them to practice and work through their feelings and emotions. Pretend to be going to school, she can be the teacher and you be her, and then switch. When in doubt, role play!
  2. Use a Count-Down Calendar – A visual tracker is always a big winner with kids, especially toddlers. Make a calendar of the week together and chat about what will happen the next day the night before. Put a big cross if there is no school and a smiley face if it is a school day. Ask them to go and check the calendar each morning to let you know what the day will hold. Involving them in the process of going to school gives toddlers some of that control that they love so much!
  3. Go Shopping Together – Once again, involve your child in the process. Purchase staionery and a new bag of her choice; Ask her to choose her snacks or what she would like for lunch. A good way to avoid  the  “I want ice cream and sour worms” answer is to give concrete choices – “Would you like strawberries or pineapple in your lunch today?”
  4. Get the Sleep Schedule on Track – Sleep is so important! If you are a parent, you know this! My daughters sleeping through the night has gone out the window since school has started . Night wakings, battling to fall asleep and wanting milk in the night (what the heck?!) is now back! While this is all normal and to be expected when little ones go through big changes, this lack of sleep and new structure also impacts her behaviour and mood, which in turn, impacts her sleep. It is a vicious cycle!
  5. Read Some Books – I Love You All Day Long, The Kissing Hand, Go Home, Mrs. Beekman and The Night Before Kindergarten are great books to read to little ones! Often, social stories help children to work through issues that they are having, without having the focus directly on them. They see that the Skunk in the book also struggles with leaving Mom, but that his Mom always comes back, and so will theirs.
  6. Nest the Night Before – Involve your child in packing bags, lunch, choosing clothes etc. Again, make them part of the process and give them some control.
  7. Pack a Piece of Home – Anyone who knows my child knows that she is obsessed with her Dudu! It is her comfort object and her safe place when I am not around. I have let her carry it into school every morning and hold it until after I have gone and she feels okay. Her teacher then pops it into her bag.
  8. Create a Special Good-Bye Ritual – Whether it’s a silly handshake or a simple call-and-response phrase like, “See ya later alligator/After a while crocodile,” find something unique to do as you say your goodbyes. The repetition translates into comfort, letting your child know that they are in a situation they’ve been in before. Plus, it also gives you a firm exit point.
  9. Keep it Short but Sweet – One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to turn school drop-off into the long goodbye. Give them one last hug, take a deep breath, trust the teachers and walk away. Even if your child starts crying, don’t linger because it will make it worse. (And keep it together, Mom! You can cry in private once you’re out of sight).
  10. Celebrate at Pick Up – At the end of the school day, make sure you are not late. Then, make like a cheerleader and tell her how proud you are and what a big girl she is.

Be patient: it will generally take a few weeks before your child fully adjusts to the new school schedule. Keep your morning routine consistent and your goodbyes short, and your little one will eventually get used to school. Also, stock up on wine. 

Tyla x


Kids Not Listening?

Not listening and misbehaving is pretty normal in kids (at least some of the time) and in toddlers, well, ALOT of the time! These tips are useful when figuring out why your little one is misbehaving / not listening and how to encourage more appropriate behaviour in the future:


  • Are they hungry or tired? (These factors are enough to make anyone grumpy and non-compliant, but especially small children.) It is not an excuse for behaviour, but it does make it easier to understand and to prevent.
  • Have I been paying attention to them enough?  Often, negative behaviour gets much more attention that positive behaviour. If you have not been paying much attention to your child while they have quietly been building blocks (a good idea is to praise the behaviour we want to see reoccurring) then you may find them throwing blocks at the cat in order to ensure that Mommy notices them.
  • When we dont respond to what they say right away, we aren’t modelling good behaviour. Obviously, this is not always possible and children do need to learn to wait, but remember that they are learning from everything that you do. If you ignore them then they may just ignore you. If you are busy, acknowledge that you know they need you, but they need to wait until after you have had a sip of wine (kidding…kinda).
  • Would a change of scenery change their behaviour? Over-stimulation is real and can make a child feral (I speak from personal experience). If you’ve gone from the park, to the shops, to coffee at grandma and now you expect your 2 year old to sit down quietly and eat their lunch, you may find food on the floor (or on you) and your mini-me screaming hysterically. Learn to notice the signs of over-stimulation (future post on this) and remove your little one from a situation that might bring on a melt-down.


  • Get down to their level (you’re harder to ignore!)
  • Hold their hands to get and keep their attention.
  • Ask for their eye contact and do not speak until you get it.
  • Have them repeat back what you said (to ensure they understand what you have said).

Have a great 2018 everyone!

Tyla x





Helping Children Work Through Their Mistakes

I found this list really useful and  insightful. It is often tricky to remember to do or say certain things when your child is upset, but making mistakes a teachable moment and building resilience can only assist in the development of self awareness and self confidence.

We can’t stop the inevitable, but can we help our children become resilient little problem solvers? You bet.

Question 1. “What happened?”

Getting all the facts in a situation is the first step in being able to help your child work through a mistake. We can’t help if we don’t know what happened.

Facts are not feelings. Helping children learn the difference between the two is an important part of their ability to solve issues now and in the future.

“I messed up at Jenny’s birthday party and no one is going to invite me to another party ever again!” is not a fact. “Messing up” is one perspective of the actions that took place, and worrying about not receiving invitations to future parties is speculation coupled with fear.

Ask the right questions and build up a solid factual foundation

“What do you mean by ‘messed up’? Can you tell me what happened?”

“Did anyone say you’re never going to get an invitation again, or is that what you thinkwill happen?”

Dig through the information your child provides, and echo only the facts back to them. “So if I heard you correctly, you got mad and yelled at Spencer in front of everyone because he took the last cupcake. Is that what happened?”

Sometimes just stripping away everything but the facts helps reframe a stressful situation for an upset child.

Question 2: “How are you feeling?”

Now that the facts are out of your child’s head and onto the table, it’s time to find out what’s going on in the heart.

Good or bad, emotions are a vital part of the human experience. Shame, fear and worry are fairly common after an emotional fall, but some kids have an extra layer of anger or self-deprecation they have to wade through before arriving to those core emotions.

Younger kids might have a harder time identifying or naming feelings, so this can be a particularly strong teachable moment.

Have your younger child describe how they’re feeling as best they can (“It makes my tummy hurt. I don’t want to go to Jack’s house anymore!”) Then, along with the facts of the situation, help them define the emotion (“Are you worried about what Jack will think of you because you pushed him? I sometimes feel that way when I’m embarrassed, and it makes my tummy hurt, too.”)

You know your child best, so guide them through this step with the proper amount of time and care. Some children move through emotions quickly, while others linger in them for a while before being able to get to the other side.

Question 3: “What have you learned?”

This next question requires a bit of distance from the weight of overwhelming emotions. It can be hard to look at a situation objectively when you’re still clouded with those intense feelings.

When you do ask your child what was learned, be prepared that they might not see the bigger picture just yet. It can sometimes take a few hours, days or even weeks before a new perspective is born from the ashes of a bad experience.

Younger children might have a hard time sifting through the debris and finding the lessons, so offering a similar story from your own life can help. (“I had something like that happen when I was around your age, and what I learned was…”)

When kids realize there’s a teachable takeaway from every mistake, it adds a silver lining to an otherwise bad situation.

Question 4: “What can you change for next time?”

It’s time to put an action plan together.

All of us can feel pretty out of control after making a mistake and seeing the aftermath of our actions. Therefore, coming up with a solid plan to handle similar situations the next time can be very empowering.

“Instead of cheating on the test next time, I’ll make sure to study harder.”

“Instead of hitting Lily when I’m frustrated, I’ll come talk to you.”

Watch your child’s confidence grow. We all love it when a plan comes together.

Question 5: “So, how are you feeling NOW?”

Now that you’ve ironed out the facts, talked out the feelings, excavated the lessons and worked out a game plan for future situations, all that’s left to do is remind your child the sun will still come up tomorrow.

Chances are when you ask this question, things won’t be 100% better. But they’ll be getting better. Fast or slow, emotional improvement is what’s important.

Resilience is built up through life lessons like this one – and the many that will come after it. It’s not a perfect skill, but it does improve with practice.

At the end of the day, your little human is exactly that: a human. We are imperfect beings who make imperfect decisions from time to time.

But with the right amount of love and support, your child will generally come out the other side of his or her mistakes a little stronger and wiser than before.


Body Safety

I came across this Blog article and thought it so important! This is something that needs to be discussed with your kids from early on. Make them comfortable with the topic so that they are always comfortable talking about these kinds of things with you. 

The following body safety skills can be taught throughout your child’s life and can be included as part of daily conversations.

1. Teach your children the proper names of their body parts.

As soon as your child begins to talk, name each body part correctly including the genitals, i.e. penis, vagina, vulva, buttocks, breasts and nipples. Explain to your child that their ‘private parts’ are the parts under their bathing suit. Note: a child’s mouth is also known as a ‘private zone’. Avoid the use of ‘pet names’ to describe the genitals. This way, if a child is touched inappropriately, they can clearly state where they were touched.

2. Make sure there is a clear understanding of the word ‘private.’

Explain the terms ‘private’ and ‘public’, i.e. ‘private’ means just for you. Talk about a toilet as being a private place but the kitchen, for example, is a public space because it is shared. Relate these terms to both spaces and body parts.

3. Explain to your child who they should talk to if they feel unsafe.

Teach your child that no one has the right to touch or ask to see their private parts, and if someone does, they must tell a trusted adult straightaway. Teach your child that if someone (i.e. the perpetrator) asks them to touch their own private parts, shows their private parts to the child or shows them images of private parts that this is wrong also.

As your child becomes older (3+) help them to identify three to five trusted adults they could tell anything to and they would be believed. These people are part of their Safety Network. Note: at least one person should not be a family member.

 4. Talk to your child about all different types of feelings.

At the same time as you are discussing inappropriate touch, talk about feelings. Discuss what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, etc. Encourage your child in daily activities to talk about their feelings, e.g. ‘I felt really sad when … pushed me over.’ This way your child will be more able to verbalize how they are feeling if someone does touch them inappropriately.

5. Make sure they have a clear understanding of ‘safe’ vs. ‘unsafe.’

Talk with your child about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’. Discuss times when your child might feel ‘unsafe’, e.g. being pushed down a steep slide; or ‘safe’, e.g. snuggled up on the couch reading a book with you. It is important children understand the different emotions that come with feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’.

6. Discuss what it feels like to feel unsafe.

Discuss your child’s Early Warning Signs when they feel unsafe, i.e. heart racing, feeling sick in the tummy, sweaty palms, etc. Let them come up with some ideas of their own. Tell your child that they must tell you or a person on their Safety Network if any of their Early Warning Signs occur. Reinforce that you will always believe them and that they can tell you anything.

7. Discourage secret keeping.

Talk about ‘happy surprises’ instead such as not telling Granny about her surprise birthday party. Compare this with ‘unsafe’ secrets such as someone touching their private parts. Make sure your child knows that if someone does ask them to keep an unsafe secret that they must tell someone on their Safety Network straightaway.

8. Empower your child to speak up if something feels wrong.

Discuss with your child when it is appropriate for someone to touch their private parts, e.g. a doctor when they are sick (but making sure they know you must be in the room). Explain that if someone does touch their private parts (without you there) that they have the right to say, ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ and outstretch their arm and hand.

Reinforce to your child that they are the ‘boss of their body’ and they do not have to kiss or hug a person if they don’t want to. Explain that we all have a ‘body boundary’. This is an invisible space that surrounds our body, and that no one can enter another person’s body boundary unless they allow it.



Anxiety in children is rapidly increasing. As parents and professionals, it is good to know what to look for. The following books can be a huge help in assisting little ones in understanding the feeling of anxiety and what to do in order to feel better.

Remember, there are many ways to help your children in improving confidence and developing coping strategies, and if you need assistance, do not hesitate to contact a professional for guidance.

Tyla x 



Summer Developmental Activity Ideas

All of these activities are designed to be accompanied by an adult. Please do not leave your children alone in doing any of the activities below. I have not included age recommendations and some of the activity ideas include using small pieces. Do not use small pieces when working with children 3 years old and younger that could pose a choking hazard.

Gross Motor Activities for Summer
These are just some suggestions, I’m sure you can think of more based on your child’s likes and interests. These also double as excellent ideas to improve bilateral coordination skills.

– Wheelbarrow walking
– Crab Walking
– Bear Walking
– Push ups
– Sit ups
– Crunches
– Scooter board races
– Laying on their stomachs on the scooter board, therapy ball, or swing
– Shooting baskets
– Volley ball
– Swimming
– Playing with yo-yo’s
– Jump Rope
– Riding a bike
– Jumping on a trampoline
– Swinging
– Horse back riding

Fine Motor Activities for Summer
Bilateral Coordination

– Roll dough with a rolling pin
– Hand clapping games
– Squeeze objects (i.e. glue) with both hands
– Use both arms to twirl streamers or scarves
– Build with building blocks
– Trace patterns on paper
– Draw a picture using stensils
– Tear lettuce into pieces to make a salad
– Spread icing on cookies, cakes, etc.

Finger Dexterity

– Press cookie cutters into dough or putty
– Play with finger puppets
– Play pick-up sticks games
– Screw and unscrew small lids, nuts or bolts
– Fold paper (i.e. origami, airplanes etc)
– Hold a handful of marbles, transferring one at a time into a container
– Draw shapes and write words in a variety of mediums (shaving cream, sand, finger paint, hair gel etc).
– Draw designs on a Etch-A-Sketch board
– Play board games with small pieces to manipulate
– Use fingers to sprinkle toppings on food (sprinkles, shredded cheese).

Grip Strength

– Squeeze putty, flour sifter, plastic squeeze bottles
– Squeeze juice from a lemon or orange
– Squeeze a spray bottle (water plants, clean windows)
– Stir batter in a bowl
– Staple papers together with a small stapler
– Use a hole punch to make dots or creative shapes

Pinch Strength

– Peel stickers off surfaces
– Peel fruit (lemons, oranges etc)
– Turn keys in a lock
– Deal cards
– Use tongs to pick up small objects
– Spin tops
– Play with wind-up toys
– Tear paper for art projects
– Build with small blocks
– Roll small amounts of putty, play dough, into balls between fingers
– Lacing Cards
– Pick up small objects with fingers and place into containers (beans, cereal, corn kernels)
– Place coins into a bank or small slit in a lid.
– Pop bubbles on bubble wrap
– Use small rubber stamps to create a picture
– String beads to make a necklace
– Pinch clothespins (laundry, games etc)

Visual Motor Activities for Summer
Visual Perception:

– Copy patterns/pictures using shapes, pegs etc.
– Put together models
– Dot-to-dots
– Mazes
– Hidden picture searches
– Word searches
– Put puzzles together
– Use changeable markers to improve tracing skills

Scissor Skills

– Simulate cutting motions by transferring objects with bubble tongs
– Cut straws into small pieces and string to make a necklace
– Cut play dough/putty/clay
– Cut shapes out of foam
– Cut pictures from magazines or cereal boxes

I would try and incorporate a few a day. That way you are working on the same skill in many different ways (and your kids won’t get bored!)

Have a  great summer holiday!

Tyla x



Welcome to my website! I am a child therapist and registered psychological counsellor, focusing on assisting young children and their parents with developmental, behavioural, academic, emotional and social issues and delays. I work in the Southern Suburbs of beautiful Cape Town.

Please see the individual pages on the tabs above for more information.

Tyla x