Understanding and managing my child’s behaviour

If your child’s behaviour is challenging, there are some things you can do. It can help to understand what might be causing the behaviour in the first place.

Remember to be kind to yourself – it may take some time to start seeing a difference.

Behaviour: Mother teaching boy how to wash hands properly

Recognise where it's coming from

Children love attention and work hard to get it, even if that means behaving poorly. Bad behaviour may indicate that your child is hungry, tired, nervous or in a bad mood. They may be responding to some change in their lives.

When a child has an outburst because they don’t get what they want, this is a tantrum. A tantrum is different from a meltdown, which is linked to sensory overload or autism.

Help your child spot their emotions

Your child’s behaviour may change if they are struggling to process emotions. Acknowledge it’s OK for your child to have these feelings. Try helping them identify their feelings by name. This can help them express what they’re going through. This means they’ll be less likely to use behaviour to show how they feel.

You can also help them develop ways to respond to these different emotions. We have some advice on supporting them understand and express emotions. 

Lead by example

Be a role model. Children learn by copying, so show them the type of behaviour you want to see.

  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you”.
  • Try to stay calm in difficult situations. If your child sees or hears you shouting when you’re angry, they’ll learn to do the same.

Be calm and consistent

Try to be consistent in your approach. Be fair, firm and kind.

  • Give reasonable rules, with clear consequences for breaking them. Make sure you follow through.
  • Use consequences, not punishments. Consequences might be time outs, grounding or tasks, which can help teach your child. Punishments are actions that make your child feel guilt or cause them to suffer.
  • Don’t give attention to behaviour like sulking. But make sure you ignore the behaviour, not your child.

If your child has autism meltdowns or sensory meltdowns, they may need extra support from you.

Give positive attention and praise

Show your child plenty of affection. Let them know they mean the world to you.

  • Play with your child. Let them lead, but join in the fun.
  • Praise the behaviours you want to see.
  • Use rewards and incentives. This can give your child extra motivation to learn new skills or behaviours.
  • Actively listen to your child and give them your full attention. Turn off your phone, stop what you’re doing and make eye contact.

Avoid negative discipline

Try to avoid being harsh or critical, shouting, threatening, or humiliating your child. This is ‘negative discipline’ and can hurt your child’s emotional wellbeing. Bribing and giving in to your child are also types of negative discipline.

More help with behaviour

Challenging behaviour can take lots of different forms. We also have advice on:

Want more support? For advice on your specific issue, speak to one of our parenting coaches.  

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