How to Deal with Difficult Behaviour?

If your child is behaving badly, first consider whether their behaviour is a problem. Do you need to do something about it now or is it a phase they’ll grow out of? It may be best to live with it for a while.

Think about whether your child’s behaviour is a problem for other people. Behaviour that might not worry you can become a problem when it affects those around you.

Sometimes, taking action can make the problem worse. However, if a problem is causing you and your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, it’s important to deal with it.

Do what feels right: What you do has to be right for your child, you and the family. If you do something you don’t believe in or that you don’t feel is right, it probably won’t work. Children notice when you don’t mean what you’re saying.

Don’t give up: Once you’ve decided to do something, continue to do it. Solutions take time to work. Get support from your partner, a friend, another parent, your health visitor or your doctor. It’s good to have someone to talk to about what you’re doing.

Be consistent: Children need consistency. If you react to your child’s behaviour in one way one day and a different way the next, it’s confusing for them. It’s also important that everyone close to your child deals with the problem in the same way.

Don’t over react: This can be difficult. When your child does something annoying time after time, your anger and frustration can build up. It’s easy to take your feelings out on them. If this happens, the whole situation can get worse.

It’s impossible not to show your irritation and anger sometimes, but try to stay in control. Once you’ve told your child off, move on to other things that you can both enjoy or feel good about. Find other ways to cope with your frustration, like talking to other parents about how you feel.

Talk to your child: Children don’t have to be able to talk to understand. It can help if they understand why you want them to do something. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road, or get into the buggy when it’s time to go home.

Encourage your child to talk to you: Giving your child the opportunity to explain why they’re angry or upset will help reduce their frustration.

Be positive about the good things: When a child’s behaviour is difficult, the things they do well can be overlooked. Tell your child when you’re pleased about something they’ve done. You can let your child know when they make you happy by giving them attention, a hug or a smile. There doesn’t have to be a reason. Let your child know you love him just for being himself.

Offer rewards: You can help your child by rewarding them for behaving well. For example, praise them or give them their favourite food for tea. If your child behaves well, tell them how pleased you are. Be specific. Say something like, “Well done for putting your toys back in the box when I asked you.”

Don’t give your child a reward before they’ve done what they were asked to do. That’s a bribe, not a reward.

Avoid smacking: Smacking may stop a child doing what they’re doing at that moment, but it doesn’t have a lasting positive effect.

Children learn by example, so if you hit your child you’re telling them that hitting is an acceptable way to behave. Children who are treated aggressively by their parents are more likely to be aggressive themselves. It’s better to teach by example rather than behave in the way you’re asking them not to behave.

There are more effective alternatives to smacking to control your child’s behaviour.

Extra help with difficult behaviour

You can get help for especially difficult behaviour, so don’t feel you have to cope alone. Talk to a child psychiatrist or a specialist doctor.

Sometimes, a bit of support and encouragement might be all you need. Some children may need to be referred to a specialist where they can get the help they need.

Having a child whose behaviour is very difficult can put a huge strain on you. You might need help yourself. Speak to your doctor about support groups in your area.

Further information

About the author

Maya Expert Team