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Parenting Tip of the Month

Click here to view our January Parenting Tip, "Responding to Challenging Behaviors."

Responding to Challenging Behaviors

girl snowBeing a parent can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. It can also be tough and draining when dealing with challenging behaviors. There are many books, articles and blogs on the topics of parenting and discipline. Having so many options and a wide variety of advice can add to the stress and confusion.

The word discipline refers to teaching or learning. When we discipline our children, we really should be teaching them what to do or how to correct their behavior. If a child doesn’t know how to brush their teeth, zip up their jacket, or read, we take time to teach them. We do not punish them for not knowing. The same is true when dealing with challenging behaviors. We need to teach children how to get their needs met in a different and more appropriate way.

Here are some suggestions on how to respond to your child’s challenging behavior: 

  1. Identify the reason for the behavior. When a child becomes upset or angry, we may see behaviors like hitting, biting, throwing or screaming. These behaviors are the result of a child’s inability to cope with their strong feelings or control their impulses. It is helpful to figure out why the behavior is occurring or what the child is trying to communicate. Some possible reasons for a child’s challenging behavior are that they do not understand what you are saying or what is happening; they have an unmet need such as hunger, tired or seeking attention; or they are trying to escape or avoid a situation because it is too loud, too hard or they are not ready to end an activity.
  2. Remain calm. This may be easier said than done. Staying calm is very important when responding to your child’s challenging behavior. Before you can talk to your child and address their negative behavior, you will need to wait until they are calm. It will be difficult for your child to calm down if you respond with anger and frustration. Take several deep breaths and approach with a calm voice.
  3. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Think back to the last time you were angry or upset. Did you want to be left alone to calm down, or did you need a hug when you were upset? Children are the same. We need to empathize with them and understand where they are emotionally. One way to do this is to reflect back what your child is feeling at their eye level. For example, “You are really mad. You wanted to play with your car, but I said it was time to put it away.” This one statement can help you begin to reconnect with your child and deescalate the situation.
  4. Respect your child’s needs. Each child will calm down differently. Some children may need more quiet time to calm, while other children may seek to be held and rocked or want their favorite blanket. Do not lecture during this time. Just offer support. Additionally, help your child discover what they need to help calm their emotions.
  5. Discuss the situation. If your child has calmed down enough to discuss what happened, review the situation and how they can respond differently. It is important to remember that their feelings are not wrong. It was wrong how they responded to the situation. For example, “You were mad because mommy put your car away. It is not okay to hit mommy when you’re mad. Tell mommy ‘I’m mad’ instead.” Click here to learn how you can teach your child to identify and express their emotions.

Toddler clappingIt will take time, practice and maturity for your child to control their strong emotions and express them in a more appropriate way. Your child will need your patience and understanding as they deal with a variety of situations and experience different emotions. Click here to view how to handle a temper tantrum using Conscious Discipline skills from Dr. Becky Bailey. Click here to view a short video from the Zero to Three website on responding to challenging behaviors with children under the age of 3.

Parenting is not easy and some children need more support than we can offer. If you have questions and need additional support on responding to challenging behaviors, contact Kansas Children’s Service League’s 24-Hour Parent Helpline at 1-800-children. You may also dial 211 on your phone to be connected to 2-1-1 of Kansas to search for parenting support in your area, or click here to visit their website.

Visit the Zero to Three and Aha! Parenting websites for additional resources on responding to challenging behaviors and other parenting topics.


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