30 Top Tips to Dealing with Challenging Behaviour

How often do you feel like throwing yourself down on the floor and having a kick and a scream while you’re dealing with challenging behaviour?  I highly recommend it actually; a great stress release. It is just picking the right time and appropriate place, so people don’t call the police!

This is what our little ones have trouble with the most, dealing with big emotions, changes and disappointments.

Sometimes a tantrum can be charged up by something as simple as being hungry, tired or overwhelmed by emotions and not having the emotional intelligence to sort it out. Are they fussed about where they express or who they do it in front of? No, they are in the moment, completely spontaneous in their combustion.

Here are some tools and suggestions that can be helpful to help you and your child deal with the tsunami of emotions that create tantrums. We need to be their safe place to fall and also create a ‘Safe Place’, a time-out space. A safe special personal space created just for them when they feel overwhelmed by their experiences.

This model of ‘Time away’ is also an opportunity to learn about self-discipline and compassion for others, not about punishment.

A space for reflection, a space to learn techniques on how to ground themselves and feel free to express how they feel without interfering with other family member’s space. An opportunity to think about their behaviour and how they can change it in the future. Also to be reminded of their boundaries and how they can remember to learn to respect them.

Naturally, the age and temperament of each child need to be taken into consideration in how this will be implemented.

Our children are unique, so what works for one may not for the other.

Therefore it is the very important role of the parent to help our children put words to their expressions. An example of how you may do this is by reflecting on their behaviour and feeding this observation back to them to assist them in identifying what they may be feeling. e.g.: ‘You look very sad, are you sad because Daddy had to go to work? ‘Or ‘Is that your angry face? Are you angry that I said you may not have a biscuit before dinner?’

We all have our wobbly days, and our children can be our emotional thermometers. Reflect on your own behaviour and feelings; you may need to take some time out yourself.

In my experience, I have found a bean bag or large cushion serves well. It creates a soft space to snuggle or can be great to punch when one is frustrated or angry.

30 Top Tips to Dealing with Challenging Behaviour

1. I suggest you take your child with you to buy their new bean bag or cushion.

2. Take the time beforehand to specifically explain how you are going to help them when they feel upset, or just need a safe place to snuggle.

3. Explain that this is their special space. It will be where they go when they need to think about how to learn a new lesson or when they have not been cooperating with their or the family’s boundaries and limits.

4. Set up their ‘space’ in an appropriate area. If your child tends to throw themselves around in a tantrum make sure it is in a place where they cannot hurt themselves.

5. If your child is hitting or kicking, remove yourself from their reach and tell them ‘Hitting hurts me; I will not sit next to you when you hit or kick. I will come back when you decide to stop.

6. Make sure there is enough room for a parent to sit too, as you may need to sit with the child, for reassurance, depending on age and circumstance. Cuddly toys and a book or two can be in their space for quiet times.

7. I suggest the length of time spent in time out be adjusted to a minute per the child’s age. If they put themselves in the space allow them to stay there as long as they wish.

8. If you tell your child they need to go into their space, tell them firmly, do not confuse them with empty threats.

9. If your child is upset or confused first offer the option of love and cuddles. Hold them lovingly and securely, rock them and talk very softly and compassionately to them. Offer simple short suggestions as to how they may be able to feel better.

10. Let them know that you understand how they must be feeling. Be aware of your body language. If this doesn’t help maybe it is time for them to spend some time in ‘their space’.

11. If their behaviour is unacceptable tell them it is time to go to time away and focus on how they can feel better, or choose to co-operate.

12. Sit with your child and breathe deeply and slowly, calm yourself, and be an example of how the use of breath can be a calming technique.

13. When your child is calming down or deciding to listen to your requests/instruction show them how to stretch like a tree and rock to and fro, like a tree blowing in the wind, and pretend their feet are the bottom of the trunk sending roots deep down into the ground. This will help the body relax and for younger children, it helps them shift their focus. (Use your imagination, make it an enjoyable experience).

14. When your child is in a reasonable state to listen to you, or their time is up and they have had time to think about how they will respond better next time, firmly and lovingly proceed with the following:

15. Give them full eye contact asking them to do the same, gently hold their upper arms and in a calm deep voice ask if they understand why they are in ‘their space’

16. Be patient, they may need some assistance to verbalise what they feel or are feeling.

17. Explain why you have put them in their space, what your expectations of them are relating to their behaviour and how you wish them to be next time.

18. Ask them to repeat to you in an affirming way how they will behave regarding the matter in hand next time. Eg;’I will pick up my toys happily as soon as you ask me next time.

19. Speaking with respect and asking your child the right questions e.g.; ‘What has this event/ behaviour/feeling meant to you?’ or ‘How do you think you could change this …… to work better next time?’ will lead to your child learning to solve problems for themselves, increasing their self-esteem. Also, this will give you the insight you need to assist your child.

20. When a resolve has been reached, then big cuddles, kisses, and reassurance of your love for them, and let them know it is the behaviour you find unacceptable, not them as a person.

21. If a resolution is not reached immediately, move on, but let your child know that when everyone involved is a little clearer you will come together again to review the situation. With little children, their attention span is short so they need immediate resolution in some way.

22. Never force a child to say sorry. You can ask them, but an apology needs to come from the heart. If they won’t, you can express how you would feel if they did choose to say ’sorry’, and how they could apologise appropriately in the future.

23. When an issue is resolved. Leave it alone, do not drag it into the future, or threaten to tell Dad when he gets home. If there is an issue that your partner needs to be aware of, discuss it out of earshot of the child, or have a meeting where the child is treated with respect as the issue is dealt with further. Shaming and blaming are not constructive to rearing a healthy happy child.

24. Acknowledge your child with encouragement when they have succeeded in grounding themselves and found a way to feel more content within themselves.

25. If your child is not cooperating with you or revving up with inappropriate behaviour, just reminding them they may need to go to their space, may be enough to bring them to the realization that they need to change their behaviour/actions.

26. Do your best to keep things in perspective. Adjust your reactions accordingly to their behaviour. Any consequence should match the actions of your child.

27. Grounding your child or threatening to take something precious away because they didn’t pick up after themselves is an example of an overreaction or major parental frustration.

28. Children will shut down to protect themselves when they are spoken down to or yelled at. Shame and blame is not the way to build a loving, learning, safe environment.

29. Be empathetic when setting limits, make sure they are appropriate to your child’s age when teaching them about their boundaries.

30. Take time to really think out what is going to benefit your child’s development or is it a punishment that may only lead to rebellion? The aim here is guidance not control.

It is very important to have realistic expectations with your child and yourself. Remembering that what we speak is what we teach and that our children are mirrors of our behaviour and this can be quite confronting sometimes.

So be kind to yourself as a parent as it is a long learning journey and we are often working without a map or a safety net.

Be the best example you can be. Have lots of hugs and learn which behaviour actually requires attention and what can be ignored.

Avatar of Arnaum Walkley

Arnaum has been a Parenting Counsellor for over 25 years, assisting and nurturing parents in developing their own unique parenting skills, and how to develop Conscious Parenting skills. In this time she has been involved in South Australia and other states and communities as an Early Childhood Worker, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Parenting Educator, Public Speaker, Counsellor, and Writer focusing on child development and parenting.

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