Understanding and managing my child’s behaviour

We all struggle with our feelings sometimes, but for children, processing big emotions can be especially challenging. This can lead to anger, aggressiveness or acting out, especially if they feel anxious or overwhelmed. Start by acknowledging it’s OK to have these feelings, and help identify them by name. That way, you can help your child manage how they respond in future. Demonstrating and rewarding the behaviours you want to see more of can help, too.

Mother teaching boy how to wash hands properly

Give positive attention and praise

  • A little appreciation can work wonders, so don’t be afraid to show your child plenty of affection. Let them know they mean the world to you.
  • Play with your child: they’ll love the attention. Let them lead, but join in the fun.
  • Reward the behaviours you want to see with lots of praise. Children want to please, so giving extra attention encourages them to keep it up.
  • Use rewards and incentives. A little motivation will encourage your child to learn a new skill or behaviour.
  • Actively listen to your child and give them your full attention. Turn off your phone, stop what you’re doing and make eye contact.

Lead by example

  • Be a role model. Children learn through copying, so show the behaviours you want to see more of. Remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ yourself.
  • Try to keep cool in tough situations and respond calmly to challenging behaviour. If your child sees you shouting when you’re angry, they’ll learn that’s how to respond when they feel frustrated.
  • Give clear, consistent boundaries and stick to your rules. Children get confused if you let them stay up past their bedtime one night but not the next, for example.

Managing difficult feelings

If your child is finding it difficult to process their feelings, suggest they try these activities:

  • Breathe deeply. This helps slow the heart rate and bring you back to the present. Breathe in for a count of three, and out to four. Repeat as much as you need.
  • Keep a diary. Getting things down on paper can help us understand difficult emotions. You could also try the worry tree activity.
  • Walk away from the situation. This helps you gain perspective.

Remember

Go easy on yourself: things won’t always go smoothly. Your emotions have a part to play too, and when you’re upset it’s harder to be patient. Remember to show yourself empathy, as well as your child.

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