- What are some challenging behaviours in children?
- What are the 4 stages of challenging behaviour?
- How do you handle a child with challenging behaviour?
- Strategies for dealing with challenging behaviour
A bit of defiance or challenging behaviour is a natural part of growing up.
While it’s difficult to manage these behaviours of concern, you shouldn’t panic. Remember all the times in your childhood when you broke some rules or rebelled against what you were told.
We know that when it comes to your children, managing challenging behaviour can feel like a nightmare. You can find yourself tackling a temper tantrum or bout of clinginess, that just doesn’t seem to end.
Rest assured that this is only your child learning how to self-regulate and calm themselves down when they are upset. 😌
The great relief is that you aren’t the only one struggling. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions by parents on the internet is – ‘how to manage challenging behaviour in my child?’
This guide will help you understand exactly how to deal with challenging behaviour and encourage gratitude and happiness at home.
What are some challenging behaviours in children?
Challenging behaviour involves actions or reactions that can harm or interfere with one’s daily life. 🤯
Some common behaviours of concern:
- Defiance: ignoring your requests like refusing to go to school or sleep on time
- Fussiness: refusal to eat certain healthy foods or wear certain clothes
- Deliberately hurting other people, e.g. biting or kicking
- Displaying excessive anger through shouting or breaking things when they don’t get their way
- Becoming quick to get frustrated
- Harmful impulsiveness like snatching things out of other people's hands or pushing people to get in front of the queue
- Having frequent tantrums or tantrums that last for longer than typical
- You don’t know how to discipline them, as they show aggression or don’t seem to care about the consequences of their actions
What are 4 stages of challenging behaviour?
According to the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, these are the 4 stages of challenging behaviour :
- The Green ‘Proactive’ Phase: This is when your child is feeling mostly calm and relaxed and can engage positively with you. Perhaps your child becomes restless during a long hour of grocery shopping. Before the shopping begins, you can let them know that you’d like their help in picking up the items on your list. This way your child’s energy has been directed to something purposeful. They are less likely to act out.
- The Amber ‘Active’ Phase: This is when your child exhibits ‘warning signs’ of challenging behaviour. They may become anxious or distressed, struggle to verbally communicate their wants, or become bored or displeased by something. At this stage, encourage your child to communicate what’s bothering them. Only if they let you know that they are getting hungry during grocery shopping, will you be able to give them a snack.
- The Red ‘Reactive’ Phase: This is where your child clearly exhibits challenging behaviour. You need to gain control over the situation quickly to avoid unnecessary distress. If your child is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, ignoring or scolding them will only further agitate them. You will have to give the situation your full attention and resolve the source of your child’s distress. If the crowds in the grocery store are upsetting them, take your child to a quiet corner where they can calm down. Find out more about how to deal with a tantrum right here.
- The Blue ‘Post Reactive’ Phase: This is when the incident of challenging behaviour is over and your child is starting to recover, becoming calm and relaxed again. You still need to be careful here as there is a risk of the behaviour escalating to the red phase again. If your child was hungry at the supermarket, make sure to give them something to eat when you get home.
When challenging behaviour is triggered, identifying these different stages can help you meet the needs of your child. 🙌
How do you handle a child with challenging behaviour?
Set reasonable boundaries and rules
Setting boundaries for kids can feel difficult. The aim is to help them understand what is expected of them. If they know what’s appropriate and what’s not, they can use this as a reference point for their behaviour.
Some clear and healthy boundaries with kids:
- Not stealing or lying
- Explaining that it’s unacceptable to swear at peers or adults in any situation
- Bedtime on school nights is non-negotiable
- Completing homework when it is due
- Finishing certain chores like cleaning your room before you sleep
- Certain limits on screentime
- Letting older kids know that doing drugs is unacceptable
Another way to manage challenging behaviour is by discussing the consequences of breaking boundaries beforehand. These consequences look like a ‘time-out’ (removing a toddler from the sandpit if they throw sand on the other kids and placing them in an isolated area with you for a few minutes) or withdrawal of gadget privileges or pocket money for older children.
Understand what is being communicated
As adults we can often show challenging behaviour ourselves; perhaps we’ve raised our voice in an argument or given someone the silent treatment. This usually happens when our feelings are not being considered and we become upset. Eventually, through communication, we’re able to sort things out.
Similarly, children show challenging behaviour when they feel their needs are not being met. Unlike adults, they need support for challenging behaviour.
Trying to understand what children are communicating behind their behaviour will help ease the situation quickly. 🗣
Here are some common reasons behind challenging behaviour :
- Fatigue, inadequate sleep or excessive screen time
- Life changes like the birth of a sibling, moving house, making new friends
- You're having a difficult time: children can easily sense the tension in the family, which often makes them act out
- Past behavioural patterns: children often show challenging behaviour if they’ve previously been rewarded for it
To manage challenging behaviour successfully give children alternative and healthy ways of communicating and meeting their needs.
- For toddlers, it can be visual prompts like pointing at their water bottle if they are thirsty
- Teach children to talk about their feelings (like “I am angry or I am sad”) and ask for help from the closest adult
- Talk to your child about how certain challenging behaviours can be harmful to them– like how skipping class can lead to school failure
Create opportunities for emotional outlets
As adults, when we feel we’re getting stressed we know some strategies to help us deal with challenging behaviour. Things like listening to music, practising mindfulness or even a chat with a friend can help us to calm down.
Contrastingly, children don’t know how to manage challenging behaviour. They can often get stuck with their frustration and anxiety.
One way of dealing with challenging behaviour is to create safe outlets for children where they can express these tangled emotions.
- Art and play can help regulate emotions: put on some music, paint, draw, dance and sing 🎨
- Engage in outdoor activities that can boost emotional wellbeing
- The benefits of meditation can also help them manage their confusing emotions
Don’t try to force children into these activities, simply encourage them to explore and let them decide if and how they’d like to engage with them. 💪
The purpose of providing these emotional outlets is to help children have a sense of control, which will soothe challenging behaviour.
Reward them for positive behaviour
When children want your attention, they know that both good and bad behaviour will work with you. So make sure that while challenging behaviour has consequences, their positive behaviour is also noticed and appreciated. ❤️
Consider rewards for good behaviour that will be meaningful for children like star charts, an extra bedtime story, a preferred snack, or for older children, earning points towards a special toy, privilege, or even a small amount of money. 💰
This way when wanting your attention, kids will be motivated to demonstrate examples of more positive behaviour.
Strategies for dealing with challenging behaviour
There might be days your children will be more reactive in their challenging behaviour than usual. While you might not always be able to change that, the good news is that you can stop yourself from adding fuel to their fire. 🔥
Know yourself and your triggers
While stress-free parenting might seem like a myth, taking care of yourself along with your child can go a long way.
Know your triggers– perhaps you are more stressed or tired than usual or you just had a bad day at work. For those times here are some tips:
- Have some pre-planned strategies in dealing with challenging behaviour before it occurs so you can remain more level-headed
- Take a step back in dealing with your child’s challenging behaviour and allow another adult to step in instead
- If you must engage with your child don’t forget to let off some steam later– cry or laugh about this enormous tantrum with a friend or family member 😂
- Release stress by doing something you love– go for a walk or treat yourself to a glass of wine ;)
If you learn how to embrace happiness, you’ll be able to handle your child’s challenging behaviour from a more positive place.
Don’t give up on the situation
In the face of an outburst, your exhaustion is understandable. Though we’d encourage you not to give up on the situation. Children are struggling to express themselves through their challenging behaviour. This is when they need your patience and understanding the most. 🤝
Show consistency in your reaction
Consistency gives children security, which allows them to make better choices. Different reactions to behaviours of concern at different times will confuse them and lead to the continuation of challenging behaviour.
This means if you decide that throwing food on the ground results in a time-out for your child, make sure you implement it each time. Also, encourage other adults around your child to follow these healthy consistent patterns.
Get support for challenging behaviour
You don’t need to know all the strategies to deal with the challenging behaviour in your child. It takes a village to raise a child. There is no need to feel ashamed when asking for support, whether that be from other parents or organisations. Some are truly dedicated to helping you and your child positively navigate challenging behaviour.
- Challenging Behaviour Foundation
- Young Minds
- Family Lives
- NSPCC's guide to positive parenting
- Family Action
If you feel your child’s school-related responsibilities are taking all your time and energy away, you can reach out to GoStudent for extra support. Our highly qualified tutors offer tailored learning plans to support your child’s academic success. While giving you the headspace you need to deal with their challenging behaviour. 🚀
If despite all your efforts you still find yourself asking; ‘how to manage challenging behaviour in my child?’, you could be dealing with a bigger issue.
The usual strategies in dealing with challenging behaviour might not work if your child is neurodiverse or disruptive behaviour disorders like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children who have these disorders often do not respond to punishments or rewards. In such cases, we’d encourage parents to seek professional help. Get the right guidance towards the management of challenging behaviour for your child. ✊
If you are reading this article, it’s highly likely that you’re already trying your best to overcome challenging behaviour in your child through positive means. Though we understand it’s easy to get overwhelmed with your child’s challenging behaviour.
The good news is that your conscious management of challenging behaviour in your child today has a big pay-off for the future. When children learn how to self-regulate in healthy ways early on, they grow up to be happy and secure individuals.