How should I respond to challenging behaviour?

The most useful tactic is to reward behaviours you want to see more of. There are also ways of reacting to challenging behaviour that help your child know how you want them to act. It’s worth trying some of the ones listed below.

Keep in mind that acting out may simply mean your child is hungry, tired, nervous, or in a bad mood. Taking a breath and then tackling these needs is sometimes all you need to do.

Pensive child looking into camera

Tips

  • Try to keep calm. If your child sees you shouting when you’re angry, they learn that’s how to express frustration.
  • Don’t give attention to whining, interrupting, back chat or sulking. Instead, prompt the behaviour you want to see. For example, “When you use your calm voice, I’ll talk to you.”.
  • Ignore the behaviour, not your child. Turn your body away or carry on with other tasks, rather than leaving the room.
  • Be consistent, fair, firm and kind when reacting.
  • Give reasonable rules, with clear consequences for breaking them. “If you continue to put sand on the floor, you will have to come out of the sand pit.” Make sure you follow through.
  • Use consequences, not punishments. That might include loss of treats or screen-time, using time outs or grounding, or giving them tasks or chores.
  • Try to think about the feelings behind challenging behaviour. Is your child hungry, tired, nervous or in a bad mood?

Remember

Children love attention and work hard to get it, even if that means acting out. The key is giving lots of praise for the behaviours you want to see more of. 

If you’re struggling with a behaviour you don’t like, make sure to praise the positive opposite behaviour. For example, if your child often doesn’t listen, give more attention when they do listen and do what you’ve asked.

What not to do

Try to avoid being harsh or critical, shouting, threatening, or humiliating your child. These kinds of ‘negative discipline’ don’t help, and can hurt your child’s emotional wellbeing. Bribing and giving in to your child are also types of negative discipline.

Being a parent isn’t easy, so remember to be kind to yourself, too. All children are capable of learning good behaviour – it just takes time and practice.

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