How can I manage my teenager’s challenging behaviour?

If your child or teenager is showing challenging behaviour, it can be hard to know what to do. Challenging behaviour can take many forms.

Some of the common types of behaviour families deal with are:

  • Violence and aggression
  • Causing harm to themselves or others
  • Being argumentative or disrespectful
  • Non-compliance

Causes of challenging behaviour

First, keep in mind that it’s normal to push boundaries while growing up. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign that your child is struggling. They may need some help to keep mentally healthy.

It’s also important to remember that hormones can impact your child’s behaviour. Their brain development can, too. The changes children and teenagers go through can mean they feel their emotions very intensely. This can sometimes show up in the way that they behave.

Many factors can influence challenging behaviour. It can be helpful to bear these in mind and explore if any of them might be impacting your child. This could include things like:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Stress
  • Too much screen time

You might not know why your child is showing challenging behaviour.  But there are a few important ways you can respond as a parent, whatever the reason.

What you can do

  • Build a positive relationship. It can feel like all your interactions with your child turn into arguments. Try to break this cycle by introducing positivity. You could spend time doing something you both enjoy or use humour to lighten the mood at home. Notice the good things they do, even if it is something small. Try to praise your child wherever you can.
  • Listen to your child. The behaviour your child displays may be a reaction to how they feel. It might come from their experiences. Give them lots of opportunities to talk about this. Make sure you respond to them with reassurance and no judgement. Validate their feelings, but not their behaviour.
  • Stay calm. If you can stay calm, your child is more likely to be calm, too. This can be really hard, especially if you’re in a difficult discussion with your child. Try to notice if you start to feel yourself becoming worked up. Take a moment to take a deep breath before you continue.
  • Set clear boundaries. Each family has different expectations and ideas about what is acceptable. Whatever boundaries you choose to set, try to keep them the same. If your expectations of your child keep changing, they may become less likely to stick to them.
  • Establish clear consequences and follow through with them. It’s helpful for your child to know the consequences of their behaviour. It can be hard to make sure you follow through with these consequences can be hard. But, it will make things easier in the long run.
  • Look after yourself. It can feel exhausting to manage challenging behaviour. Try to take some time out for yourself and chat with your partner or trusted friends. It’s OK to feel that your child’s behaviour is having a big effect on you. Read more about how it can affect you.
  • Ask for help. It can be helpful to speak to your child’s school about what is going on. They may be able to support you directly. Or, they can help you to access other local services for parents in similar situations.

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

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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