- What is challenging behaviour?
- Behaviour management strategies
- Behaviour management in schools
- You’re doing the best you can, and so is your kid
Being a parent can be one of life’s greatest joys. Getting to see the world through a child’s eyes is truly a thrill, and no feeling can match your little one telling you they love you.
However, even with all the cuddles, kisses, laughter, and happy memories, there’s still one unavoidable truth: sometimes, your child will be an absolute nightmare.
Managing challenging behaviour is one of the most difficult parts of parenthood, and unfortunately, it’s also one of the parts that will take up the most of your time. When their naughty behaviour extends outside the home and causes issues in the classroom or in other social settings, that’s when it can be particularly difficult.
Lucky for you, you’re not alone in the struggle, and there are methods of positive behaviour support that can help your whole family. If you find yourself saying, “I can’t cope with my child’s behaviour,” we’re here to show you some of the best behaviour management strategies to help you manage–and maybe keep you from shouting at your children, too!
What is challenging behaviour?
Like any adult, children have moods and emotions. Sometimes, these emotions can materialise into challenging behaviour. Feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed are all normal for a child. These emotions often come out in times of external stress, or when your child is tired or feeling under the weather. As children get older, it’s also normal for them to begin testing boundaries. Though this can be infuriating for parents, it’s a child’s way of asserting their place in the world and understanding their closest relationships.
Challenging behaviour can come out in many different ways, and is behaviour that happens frequently and causes hardship for you, your child, and the rest of your family.
Challenging behaviours can often include things like:
- Angry outbursts
- Shouting and being argumentative
- Hitting, biting, or kicking others
- Being unkind or even cruel to siblings, friends, or other family members
No one, even the most well-adjusted grownups, will be happy and pleasant at all times. But if your child’s behaviour is routinely causing stress and a hostile living environment for the rest of the family, it’s important to find behaviour management strategies. Fortunately, there are ways to help mitigate this kind of behaviour, making your child’s life (and yours!) much more enjoyable.
Behaviour management strategies
How you manage your child’s behaviour will vary depending on their age. However, there are some things that will help you cope, whether your child is in preschool or already applying to university.
Talk to your child
Many times, children lash out because they are experiencing unpleasant emotions and don’t have the tools to express them in a healthy way. Therefore, it’s important to start any kind of behaviour management strategy by talking to your child. Discipling children starts with understanding the causes of their naughty behaviour. When you understand the “why” behind their behaviour, it’s much easier to determine the “how” to fix it.
Starting a dialogue with your child can be difficult, especially if they tend to lash out when asked to talk about their emotions. However, there are ways to make the process easier:
- Wait until you’ve both calmed down after an outburst to start the conversation. Just like in any of your other close relationships, you can’t solve a problem when both parties are still angry!
- Let your child know that they are not the problem; rather, it’s their behaviour that is the problem. Stress that there is nothing wrong with their emotions, and they are nothing to be ashamed of.
- Approach the conversation with curiosity and empathy. Ensure your child knows your main priority is helping them feel better.
- Start phrases with “I,” not “you.” (Instead of, “You really upset me,” say, “I felt very upset by your behaviour.”)
- Try starting a conversation while doing an activity to take the stress out. With a small child, do it while playing blocks. With a teen, chat while on a drive, or cook dinner together.
Create clear boundaries and routines
Knowing the rules and what’s not up for debate can help alleviate outbursts in your child, and is one of the most important parts of behaviour management. Boundaries for kids are essential! For example, if your child knows they are only allowed one hour of television before bed, and that rule is always enforced, they’ll be less likely to push back on it. Praising your child for following the rules is a great thing to do, too. Let them know how much you appreciate them cooperating. You can even use a star chart or behaviour chart to help track your child’s progress with adhering to family rules. This kind of positive discipline is a great way to “train” children to have better behaviour.
If you’re unsure how to deal with teenagers, it’s many of the same techniques. It’s just as important to create these rules and boundaries when your child is a teenager and has their own independent life. If your teen knows their curfew is always midnight no matter what, they’ll be less inclined to fight with you about staying out later than the agreed upon time.
Follow through on consequences
Your child may be kind and have a good heart, but that doesn’t mean they won’t figure out how to manipulate mum and dad! If you constantly threaten your child with discipline but don’t actually follow up on it, they’ll recognise these empty threats for what they are and not take you seriously. It’s important that children understand the consequences of their actions.
If your child is screaming because you took away their favourite toy, or crying in their bedroom because you won’t let them go to a party with their friends, you may be compelled to just give your child what they want. No parent wants to see their child hurting or upset. However, while this response is completely normal, giving in to them can ultimately harm your child more in the long run and cause more friction in your household. Stick to your word, adhere to boundaries, and let your children know that you are the adult in charge.
Stay calm as best you can
Any parent knows that horrible guilt that comes after shouting at your child. Remember, though, that you’re only human, and it’s natural to lose your temper at times. But just like when you get into an argument with another adult, shouting only escalates a situation and can make everything worse.
Next time your child starts acting out, give yourself some space from the situation, if possible. Time-outs for kids are very useful, but they also can be for grownups, too! Once your child has calmed down, you’ll be less likely to overreact, too, and you can come to a solution more easily.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, though, if you find yourself shouting and getting frustrated. Being a parent is not easy, and it’s normal if you struggle to cope with your child’s behaviour at times.
Get professional help
If you are really struggling managing challenging behaviour, there is no shame in reaching out for professional help. This can be especially useful if your child’s erratic moods are in response to a difficult event, such as a divorce or a death in the family. Your child’s GP can provide you with a CAHMs referral to get you a counsellor and/or child behaviour specialist who understands behavioural therapy for children. Family therapy can also be very useful, and can help parents learn behaviour management strategies that work best for their own child. Child social services are also able to provide children and their families with extra help. If you really feel stuck, calling a parenting line can be a great place to start. There are also many books on behaviour management theory that can support you in finding the right techniques for your child.
It’s also possible your child’s behaviour could be caused by a neurodevelopmental disorder, such as ADHD or ODD. While these can pose unique challenges to your child, being neurodivergent doesn’t mean your child is doomed to a difficult life. Working with a professional to develop a treatment plan is the first step to creating a more peaceful family life.
Behaviour management in school
Behaviour management in school can be especially challenging. When your child’s behaviour becomes disruptive in the classroom, parents often feel at a loss, unsure how to manage their child’s behaviour from afar. No mum or dad wants to have terse meetings in the headmaster’s office where your child’s teacher explains everything they’ve done wrong! However, there are things you can do at home to help manage your child’s behaviour at school, even if you can’t be physically present.
Let your child’s teacher know what’s going on at home
You don’t have to divulge all the intimate details of your family, but if something at home could be drastically impacting your child’s performance at school, it’s important their teacher knows. Likewise, be sure that your child’s teacher and school counsellors are aware of any diagnoses your child receives, such as for ADHD, ODD, or any learning disabilities. If your child’s diagnoses really impact their education and cause them to be excluded from school, consider an alternative school that caters to neurodivergent children.
You can’t be by your child’s side every second of the day, but keeping in close contact with their teacher is essential to behaviour management in schools.
Keep an open dialogue with your child
It can be frustrating when you feel like you don’t know what goes on while your child is at school. However, it’s helpful to keep an open dialogue with your child. It’s a good way to help with behaviour management in primary schools, and as your kids age, too. You can try the tips we laid out above, and ask your child open-ended questions about their day so you can have a better sense of what they’re feeling at school.
As your child gets older, it’s important, too, to know their friends. Teens especially are often more inclined to confide in their mates than in mum or dad, so you want to be sure that your child is hanging around with people that will help bring out the best in them.
You’re doing the best you can, and so is your kid
Being a child and trying to navigate the scary, changing world around you is difficult. And it’s certainly difficult being a parent, too! If you're struggling dealing with difficult children, try to remember that challenging behaviour is a normal part of growing up, and doesn’t mean your kid is doomed for an adult life full of dysfunctional relationships. You likely weren’t always the easiest for the adults around you to manage when you were a kid, either! Remember, there are always behaviour management strategies to implement, and though it may feel like it sometimes, you’re not alone in your parenting struggles. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s what matters most. ❤️