Dealing with Difficult Behaviour in Children

Dealing with Difficult Behaviour in Children
Julie Doherty Naturopathic Physician Hackham, SA

My Commitment and Dedication - Is to provide Evidence Based Guidance and Support that will enable you to Build a Firm Foundation to Master a Life of Optimal Health, Happiness, Vitality and the Best Quality. Beginning with the Key Essence to Build a Brilliant Mind. How Fuelling your mind to positive changes, understanding... more

Today’s children are our future for tomorrow

There is no such thing as an expert when it comes to bringing up children, it is a continual learning path working with patterns and strategies that work best for you and your child. Over the years with being a parent myself and supporting many other parents in my Professional role I share with you some techniques that have been found helpful in supporting and managing childrens behaviour.

One of the biggest challenges parents face is in dealing with and managing their children’s difficult and at time somewhat defiant behavior. Whether children are refusing to put on their shoes, ignoring instructions to turn off a video game, being aggressive with a sibling, or throwing a full-blown tantrum, you can find yourself at a loss for an effective way to respond.

Health Professionals such as psychologist, psychiatrists and counsellors have found the importance of helping parents to maximize the behaviour that want to see in their children or the behaviour they want to see less of with these tried and tested techniques. This has helped parents become more confident, calm, consistent, and successful when interacting with their children, in turn building a positive relationship with their children. Also helping children to develop the skills they need to regulate their own behavior to have happier relationships with their families, teachers, and friends.

Developing Positive Behaviour Patterns in the Home!

Defining Behaviors

The first step is to identify and define the behaviors that you want to encourage and the behaviours that you want to discourage. It is important that you are specific with these behaviours and that you and the two parents both agree. It is important that you choose only the most important behaviours so when it comes to the unacceptable behaviours it isn’t everything, but one or two that will cause harm to your child in some form whether it be with relationships, or harm to him or herself or to others. So the severity of the outcome needs to be considered and explained to your child. An example of being too broad with your explanation of positive or non-acceptable behaviour is either just saying – “Your being good or that’s very naughty”. Depending on the age of the child will depend on the content of your explanation but a simple example for an improvement on your response might be “if your child has grabbed another siblings toy, might be, “No that is eg Johnny’s bear”, and encourage the child to give it back. Your child has sat nicely at the table to eat their tea, your response might be “It has been lovely having you for sit and eat your tea with us tonight”.

There are obviously a lot more scenarios but the important thing to remember is to be direct with the plan in hand and only to incorporate these suggestive changes to the behaviours you specifically want to encourage or discourage. So for example the areas that you don’t have any problems with you don’t have to make special changes to your interactions, only the behaviours you are looking to discourage or encourage. Otherwise each of you are going to get warn out and tired of either praising or explaining.

What Next!

Once you are clear about the behaviors you want to see more or less of, you should focus on underlying circumstances or causative factors that are responsible for the occurrence of these behaviours. This will help to increase the positive behaviors and decrease the occurrence of negative behaviors.

  • Adjust the environment. For a homework session, for instance, remove distractions like video screens and toys, provide a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit, yogurt if your child is hungry and of course keeping them hydrated helps believe it or not with concentration and moods. Maintain an interest with their homework and what they are doing at regular intervals. As they become bored, tired or frustrated this will often bring about the unwanted behaviours. So it is important depending the age of your child when this seems to be occurring to offer support or maybe leave it to the following day or night when a good night’s sleep has been had.
  • Make expectations clear. Your child will co-operate with you more effectively if you are clear with your expectations and if they aren’t too overwhelming or too many instructions at once. For example, Tell your child that bedtime is at 8:00 pm on school nights, so we will be getting ready for bed at 7 pm, starting with putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, going to the toilet. Then we will read together for a half an hour before the lights will go out for you to go to sleep. If your child is too young to understand a lot of talking you can use pictures and hang this up as a novelty board with simple explanations. Some children half difficulty with the concept of time, so it may mean saying something like when I have finished washing the dishes, I will help you get ready for bed, telling your child the procedure that will follow.
  • Preparation and Delivery. As mentioned most children don’t have a mindset yet for time and when things are actually going to happen. Whenever possible, to prepare your child for an upcoming activity or event, use the activities that are happening in the home. For example: when Daddy/Mummy comes home we will be having tea. After tea, I will run you a bath. In the morning after breakfast I will take you to playgroup/day-care/kindy/school etc. This helps the child to grasp what is happening, lessening anxiety and panic. Because the world your child lives in is their world and they are oblivious to anything outside of their world. So with repetition, explanation and habit they will slowly but surely move into your world. “It’s all new and a learning process that takes – Time, Patience, Dedication, Empathy and Commitment.
  • Give a choice when possible. This is not always possible but giving a choice of two options, allowing your child to make a decision is empowering for them. So you might ask do you want to have a bath or shower before or after tea. It is time for the TV to be turned off, “would you like to turn off the TV or would you like me to do it”. It will work best for both of you if you go about these discussions with a firm, pleasant and calm approach.
  • Use “when, then” as Opening words. These are helpful for a clear expectation of what you want their co-operation with. For example: “When you have completed your homework, then you if you want you can play on your iPad.” Ensuring that you include the “when” and “then”. Don’t keep repeating yourself, remain calm, and keep to agreement, allowing them to continue with their homework. If there is adversity from your child remember the agreement and just stick to it with very little verbal communication.
  • Be Direct: Use Statements not Questions. “Please take out your math’s worksheet” or “It’s time to take out your math’s worksheet” “It’s time to sit down to do your homework or Please sit down now to do your homework” This is better than asking” Are you ready———-?”Because in most events they won’t be ready

Making Choices for your Children

There are times when you will need to make the choices for your child because they haven’t learnt those skills. It is important in this area to focus on telling your child what to do, instead of what not to do. An example: If your child is jumping on the couch, you might want to say, “Please get down from the couch” it will be a better outcome if instead you “Please stop jumping on the couch.” Then if you have an area that is OK, for your child to jump, direct them there.


  • Communication – Clear and Precise

Always work at being clear and precise as to what you want as not just children, adults too have a myriad of things going on in their mind, so it is important to be clear, precise and what is happening right now, not yesterday or the day before because they will have forgotten all about that.

  • Communication – Calm and Pleasant

It’s not always easy to communicate and give instructions calmly in a pleasant manner. It is however, vitally important to work on this and for when there are times when you don’t, to apologize and explain that this isn’t how you want to talk to them.

Say it once. After you give an instruction, wait a few seconds, rather than repeating what you said. Your child will learn to listen to instructions the first time, rather than assuming you’ll say them again.

Behaviours and Consequences

An initial step to dealing with misbehaviour lies in preventing it. However, as you well know life throws lots of curve balls and this isn’t always possible. The important thing for your child to learn as that with behaviours comes consequences. Generally, you are going to your child to learn if their behaviour is negative then the consequences aren’t going to be desirable or positive. However, if their behaviours are positive then the consequences will be desirable and positive. Let’s take a look at consequences that are going help support your child best.

Looking at Ineffective Consequences
  • Negative attention. Children value attention from the important adults in their life so much that any attention — positive or negative — is better than none. When you react emotionally to your child, taking what they are saying or doing as personal to your child’s misbehaviour eg “Don’t speak to me like that” will actually increase their negative behaviour over time. Also if you criticize your child, it will gradually be harmful to his self-esteem.
  • Delayed consequences. It’s best to respond immediately, precisely and at the time of the behaviour. For every moment that passes after a behavior, your child is less likely to link their behavior to the consequence. What happens then is that instead of a direct consequence to the behaviour, it becomes a punishment that the child doesn’t remember the behaviour for, therefore will be no positive change or outcome to the behaviour.
  • Disproportionate consequences. At times, you may be so frustrated that you take away a privilege for a week or a month. In addition to being a delayed consequence, this may be developmentally inappropriate for a child who doesn’t have a sense of time. A huge consequence can be demoralizing, so that your child gives up even trying to behave.
Positive and Effective Consequences

If you become impatient because your child isn’t reacting in the time frame you want for him or her to put on her shoes or picking up his or her toys and you do the task for them. Then you are increasing the likelihood of them, not completing their tasks in a required time again.

Let’s look at ways to improve these reactions and consequences allowing them to be more effective and less emotional

  • Praise for appropriate behavior. Catching your child being good makes the behavior more likely to happen again. Praise is most valuable when it’s specific. Instead of saying “Great job!” you can say, “Thank you for putting away your blocks neatly!” Repeating or paraphrasing a child’s words (“Thank you for asking me if you could use the computer”) shows that you are listening and helps encourage their verbal skills. When you describe a positive behavior, you help your child understand exactly what you expect.
  • Active ignoring. This consequence should be used only for minor misbehaviours. Not for aggression, destructive or harmful behaviours. When your child begins to misbehave, you deliberately withdraw your attention. Meaning no eye contact, no talking, and no nonverbal interaction. No sighing, no smiling, or any other body language. You are actively waiting for your child to behave in an appropriate manner. As for whining, you are waiting for him or her to speak in an appropriate tone. If the play has become rough, you are waiting for gentle play. As soon as the behaviour resumes to your desired result, then give positive reinforcement. When your child shifts to a respectful tone, for instance, you should immediately make eye contact, smile, and say, “Thank you for speaking to me nicely.” By withholding your attention until you get positive behavior, you are teaching her what behavior gets you to engage.
  • Time Out:  This is only effective if the child knows why they are having time out and if they are given a certain task to fulfill. Such as a short story about their behaviour as to why and how could it improve or change. Once again, it is only effective given directly at the time of the negative behaviour. It may well be that your child is overtired and it is a way of saying – “You don’t normally behave like this, you are very tired. You will feel better when you have a lie down.

Rewards vs Bribes

Rewarding children is a tangible way to demonstrate positive consequences for desired behaviours. By this I am not meaning to bribe, bribery is wrong because it violates fundamental notion of equality and it undermines the vitality of both you the parent and that of the child. Whereas a reward is empowering, something that is earnt allowing the child to enjoy their tasks even though they may not enjoy doing them, but enjoy the result. Rewards help to develop your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Rewards are the light at the end of the tunnel for something that they have worked toward, rising above the difficulties and challenges. Rewards help in development of motivation and determination to a positive path. A reward doesn’t have to be exotic or expensive it can be something special and consequential such as you telling them a story, going to see a special movie, a visit to the playground, or a tangible such as special treasures like marbles or stickers, or a little extra pocket money towards something small but special that they are wanting to buy. Depending on the child often people use charts showing their progress in a certain area that might be with their reading, writing, spelling etc.

In Summary

Some children are hardwired to disturb the peace at home or school but their unusual energies take them to high places later.

There is no one stop answer and often children are labelled which can be disturbing such as  ADHD, a creative personality, a highly sensitive nature, oppositional defiant disorder, a learning disability, a mood disorder or a sub-clinical phenomenon. However, labelling a child can be soul destroying for both the child and the parent. Each one of us has an area of each of these in our personality. So naming them as being a problem may bring some clarity and minimize the anxiety. However this is not conducive to raising a healthy happy child and is far less important than bringing about healthy ways to bring a positive outcome for either the child or the parent.

By working with your child/children with the suggestions mentioned in this article will certainly help to building a strong foundation for you and your children’s life together.

Additional Resources

I want to share with you my answer to this question I have been asked today: What are some of the best things I could do for my Children to help them be Confident, Joyful, Empathetic Human Beings? The First thing as Parents that is Important – is to be Healthy, Happy and Real.