There are lots of possible reasons for difficult behaviour in young children. Quite often it's because they're tired, hungry, overexcited, frustrated or bored. If difficult behaviour is causing you or your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, it's important to try to deal with it.
Children need to know what their boundaries are so set clear precise boundaries that you all understand. What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the whole family. If you do something you don't believe in or that you feel isn’t right, it probably won't work. Children notice when you don't mean what you're saying and may well push the boundaries more.
Once you've decided to do something, continue to do it even if it feels tough at first. Solutions take time to work. Try not to give into tantrums. If you can, get support from your partner, friends and family member. It's always good to have someone to talk to about what you're doing and to realise you’re not the only one dealing with such issues!
Children need consistency and clear boundaries. If you react to your child's behaviour in one way one day and a different way the next, it's confusing for them.
Try to stay calm
This isn’t always easy! When your child does something that they shouldn’t be doing your anger and frustration can build up.
It's impossible not to show your irritation sometimes, but try to stay calm. Move on to other things you and your child can enjoy together or feel good about as soon as possible. Try not to hold on to your feelings if you do feel angry by finding other ways to cope with your frustration, like talking to other parents.
Explaining to your child why you need them to do something can help them understand. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road or why it is important they wash their hands after going to the toilet.
It is also important to encourage them to try and explain why they're angry or upset about something. This will help them feel less frustrated and will encourage them to talk to you rather than behaving inappropriately.
Be positive when your child is behaving appropriately
When a child's behaviour is difficult, the things they do well can often be overlooked. Tell your child when you're pleased about something they've done. You can let your child know when you're pleased by giving them attention, a hug or a smile or even small rewards such as a sticker.
You can help your child by rewarding them for behaving well. For example, praise them or give them their favourite food for tea. Make a point of telling them why so they can see they have been rewarded for behaving well. This will hopefully encourage them to behave well again in the future.
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 to."
Tell them that you are proud of them when they have done something that they more normally avoid doing.
As tempting as it is, try not to give your child a reward before they've done what they were asked to do. That's a bribe, not a reward!
Avoid physical discipline
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 OK. Children who are treated aggressively by their parents are more likely to be aggressive themselves. It's better to set a good example instead.
Things that can affect your child's behaviour
Try not to give yourself a hard time!
Parenting is tough for everyone at times and no child behaves perfectly all the time! We all make mistakes when it comes to dealing with challenging behaviour and it’s important not to dwell on this but to try and learn for next time.
Extra help with difficult behaviour
Don't feel you have to cope alone. If you're struggling with your child's behaviour: