We’ve all heard parents say raising children is very hard and it’s absolutely true.
No matter how calm and well-behaved your child is, there will be many challenging situations that parents find difficult to navigate.
Whether you’re raising younger or older children, there will be moments in your family life when your child’s behavior challenges you to the point you search for advice about how to cope.
As parents, we often feel we can’t cope or don’t have the right tools to help our children and ourselves.
Let’s look at some practical tips that will help you guide your child towards good behavior.
What does challenging behavior look like?
We all understand what good behavior looks like, especially in children. Society tends to see well-behaved children as being those who do as they’re told and take positive feedback or correction calmly.
Although many young children have very positive behavior and a happy attitude, it’s also true that most children sometimes struggle to understand what’s happening in the world around them or what’s expected of them.
Childhood is the time to grow and learn, and to understand and adapt to the world. The brain is constantly developing throughout childhood and it happens at a very quick rate, from birth until well past the teen years.
Early childhood is when children are still learning, so their ability to process and understand the information they’re receiving is still developing. Young children often haven’t developed emotional regulation at this point and can easily become frustrated.
The lack of understanding and the inability to adapt to a situation leads to overwhelming emotions; we often see this as ‘behavior’.
Understanding that children’s ability to solve problems will improve with time, patience and good parenting skills is of paramount importance for parents everywhere.
Let’s explore different challenging situations, according to the kid’s age.
Challenging behavior in early childhood
Early childhood is usually the most challenging time as a child’s understanding and capacity to communicate are just starting to develop.
It’s also important to acknowledge the more parents support children in their early years, the easier it will be for the child to develop emotional regulation and make those challenging life transitions easier.
Being present and available to support your children through their ‘big’ feelings helps them to feel secure and learn about those feelings, so that as they grow older and more adaptable, they can regulate their behavior accordingly.
It’s normal for children to challenge what’s happening to them. It helps them establish boundaries which they can use to learn how far they can go in different life situations. Having boundaries also helps a child understand social skills, manage difficult transitions, or avoid situations later in life, while also managing expectations.
When your child is challenging you, please understand it’s a part of healthy development.
It’s important to be able to understand the difference between your child’s normal challenging behavior and behavior that indicates something else is going on, in which case you might need to seek professional help.
Temper tantrums are usually considered to be part of a child’s normal growth and development. Extreme tantrums and meltdowns, however, can point to the possibility of neurological disorders, such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The earlier a diagnosis happens, the easier it is for parents of a neurodivergent child to access support for positive parenting.
Let’s explore these disorders a bit further.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Children with autism are very different from each other; at the same time, they can share many behavioral traits. A child’s behavior might be positively influenced if autism is identified in early childhood.
The main characteristics of people with autism are:
- Social and communication difficulties. Many people with ASD find social interactions difficult. They also have very different verbal abilities, ranging from non-verbal to verbal
- Repetitive and characteristic behaviors. Many people with ASD engage in repetitive movements or unusual behaviors, called ‘stims’. They might become obsessively interested in a particular topic.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD have differences in their brain development and activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control.
Some signs and symptoms of ADHD are:
- Inattention – difficulty in staying on task and staying focussed
- Hyperactivity – when a child seems to move about constantly, even when it’s not appropriate
- Impulsivity – when the child has difficulty with self-control or might act without thinking.
High energy children don’t necessarily have ADHD.
The article The High Energy Child-6 Helpful Tips For Parents will help you understand your child if he has high energy.
Although not all children with challenging behavior go on to be diagnosed with autism or ADHD, it can help to understand how these disorders affect brain development, which in turn has an impact on behavior.
Reading this article, especially if your child doesn’t have special needs, will contribute to raising awareness and making the world a better place: 8 Things Parents Of Children With Special Needs Want You To Know.
How do you deal with challenging teenage behavior?
Adolescence is probably the most difficult phase of life we experience. During the change from childhood to adulthood, we need to grow, adapt and increase our understanding. Our bodies also experience major physical changes as we go through puberty.
That’s a lot of change in a short time. While it’s happening, teenagers are also trying to prove to the world they aren’t children anymore, but their brains haven’t matured as fast as their bodies have.
If you’ve been a parent involved in your child’s emotional upbringing you’ll find it easier to navigate and help your kids through this stage.
Developing a healthy parent-child relationship takes time. It improves when parents are more involved in their children’s upbringing and spend more time with them.
When your children reach adolescence, all that family time, open conversations, and parent-child ‘quality time’ might not seem to have paid off. When they have gone through adolescence, that might be the first time you realize how important all those efforts made in the early years really were, and that they were worth it.
Make sure you stock up on patience, to help your child get through those teenage years in the easiest possible way.
What can trigger challenging behavior?
If there is an important change in your child’s life – such as a new family member, a new room, house or school, or a sick relative – then he will need extra help to understand and adapt to it.
Change will affect your child’s behavior, even if you’re trying to keep your child away from it as much as possible.
Intuition and instinct are very strong and young children, even babies in utero, can sense that something isn’t quite right.
Make sure you talk to your child, to learn how he’s feeling and what’s bothering him and to find out the best way to help.
Assuming children don’t know what’s going on because we’re not talking about it in their presence isn’t right; it will be a trigger to even more challenging behavior.
How can I help my child with challenging behavior?
A challenging behavior is usually triggered by a situation where your children feel insecure or afraid.
When the challenging situation arises, try to deal with it following the strategies listed below.
Once the challenging situation has been resolved and both of you are calm and ready, make sure you find time to talk with your child and reflect on what has happened.
This will help him think about his actions and it will also help you see how to help your child next time a similar situation arises.
Reflecting together after the episode has occurred will help you both work toward changing the behavior and grow closer to each other. It will help your child understand what was wrong with the behavior, how it affects everyone around him, and why it’s important to correct it.
Strategies for dealing with challenging behavior
#1: Understand the purpose of the behavior
It’s very important to consider the reasons why a child is misbehaving. It could be to get attention, power, or revenge, or maybe the child is frustrated and experiencing feelings of failure.
#2: Offer options
Children need choice. The feeling that something is happening – especially something that affects them or they’re not very keen on doing – will very likely trigger a challenging behavior if they are not taken into account.
When they’re involved in making a decision, they feel accountable and listened to.
If getting ready for bed is difficult, you could set up some options – for example: Do you want to spend more time in finishing what you’re doing but then afterwards get ready for bed really fast and without making a fuss, or do you want to start getting ready now and then there’ll be more time for a bedtime story?
It’s likely that when you offer choices they won’t comply in the beginning. They might keep playing and then make a fuss when the agreed time is up, for example, but the process will become much easier to navigate.
#3: Give lots of praise for good behavior
Do this whenever you’re happy with your child’s attitude and behavior. Do it even more if this is something you’re particularly working on. Let your child know how well his good behavior makes you feel and how much happier everyone’s life is due to his great efforts.
#4: Avoid power struggles
Wherever possible, don’t engage in a power struggle. In a power struggle, nobody wins. Even you might get the feeling that you have won once, the likelihood of bad behavior reoccurring is very high.
Make your child understand you’re not engaging with him, but you’ll discuss it when he’s calmed down and you’re both ready.
#5: Help them communicate their needs and feelings
Create a positive environment and a bond of trust so children know they can, and should, express their feelings and needs.
This is something you should encourage. Make sure you listen without judgement or interruptions while your children are trying to express themselves. Wrap it up, so they know you’ve understood what they meant and that you’re on the same page.
#6: Lead by example
Children learn much more from what they see than from what they’re told.
You cannot expect your child to open up to you, not challenge you, or interrupt you while you’re talking if these are things you do.
These strategies will only work if your child sees your actions are consistent with your words.
Here is an article you might find interesting: Is Your Technology Obsession Causing Your Child’s Behavior Problems?
#7: Be empathetic
Try to see the world through your kid’s eyes. It will really make your relationship stronger.
If your child is opening up and telling you something that is bothering him, be mindful of his feelings and the way you react when he confides in you.
You might think it’s a silly matter or that he’s overreacted to something you consider minor, but if you say this, or compare it with bigger problems you’re just crushing your child’s trust and failing to validate his feelings.
You can help him see how this might not be a huge problem but be sure you don’t damage his confidence in you by minimizing the problem or his feelings.
I can’t cope with my child’s behavior
We understand how difficult it is to raise a child with challenging behaviors.
Maybe you have older children who were not so challenging as their younger siblings, or you might have reached a point where it feels like it’s too much to cope with.
Don’t worry, this is just a bump in the ‘raising a child road’. With the right help, you’ll be able to handle this appropriately.
Try to implement the strategies suggested above. If you’re consistent, you will soon see an important change in your children’s behavior and in your relationship with them.
After implementing these strategies, if you feel your kid’s bad behavior hasn’t changed for the better, asking for professional help would be a very good option.
Your child could have a behavior disorder, or you might need a more individualized professional approach to see how you can address these difficulties and move into much happier times for you, your child, and your whole family.