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Managing Challenging Behaviours: Strategies for Parents

For toddlers and young children, processing feelings and dealing with everyday situations is much different than it is for adults. Little ones experience a rollercoaster of emotions every day and have many ways of expressing themselves. At a young age, social and emotional skills are still developing, which can lead to challenging behaviours.
As a parent or caregiver to a young child, your support plays an important role in guiding them as they learn what is considered acceptable behaviours. You should actively encourage positive behaviours and take care in how you respond to negative behaviours. By helping kids express their feelings, and by acknowledging their efforts, you’re on the right track. Understanding children’s emotional triggers and the reason behind their actions is key to managing them better.

What is Challenging Behaviour?

Each household has its own ways of defining what is and isn’t considered difficult behaviour. The saying dynamite comes in small packages is certainly appropriate as far as children are concerned. Despite their size, children are complex beings who require patience, plenty of attention, lots of cuddles, and an extraordinary amount of love. Remaining calm is often the hardest part of dealing with a temper tantrum or lashing out at a child.
There are a few defining features of challenging behaviours that we as parents, guardians, and teachers deal with often, which include:

Tantrums – Frequent and long-lasting tantrums over the smallest incidents
Defiance – Refusing your requests and behaving in the opposite way to test your limits
Fussiness – Getting very upset about certain things, like changing, eating or bathing
Hurting Others – Hitting, pinching, and pulling hair are just some ways children physically hurt others
Aggressiveness – Responding to upsetting situations by hurting themselves and breaking things.

What causes these challenging behaviours?

Challenging behaviours are often due to a child’s lack of social and emotional skills, and as they grow older, they learn how to cope in more reasonable ways. Toddlers and children need a lot of (undivided) attention to thrive emotionally and feel secure. One common reason that children act out is because they seek attention and want the response of a parent – in these cases, even bad attention is better than none.
Coping with feelings and internal struggles may also lead to behaviour issues. Helping kids express their feelings can give them the tools they need to express their needs. By understanding children’s emotional triggers through talking and time spent together, you’re able to attend to their needs and foster the use of healthy coping mechanisms.
Other causes for challenging behaviours could include:

Not feeling well – anything from teething to a cold.
Too little sleep – children need plenty of sleep and rest.
Changes to routine – routines are important to young children.
Unhappiness at home – Little ones can pick up on your moods and often act out when there are conflicts between parents or family members at home.
Too much screen time – Too much TV, phone or phone screen time can be overstimulating
Not eating well – despite their fussy eating habits, children need a balanced diet

How to Manage Challenging Behaviour at Home

Children need to understand the rules in order to follow them, so keep your instructions simple and short in a way that is clear to them.
A simple way to discourage your child’s difficult behaviour is by ignoring it when they are obviously acting out for a reaction. When they stop behaving negatively, you can focus your attention on them again, encouraging good behaviour. In the case of toddlers, distractions can also help – present them with an enjoyable alternative when they act out.
Remain Consistent: Avoid confusion for your little one by staying consistent, even when it is hard to do. Make sure everyone who watches your child or is an influence on them understands what is and is not allowed so that their rules stay the same. Children need consistency to learn and grow with our guidance.
Talk to your child: At a young age, children are eager to understand and learn. Simply being told to hold your hand when crossing the street might not be enough for them. Explain why it is safer and make it fun for them. If your child is still too small, simply talking to them in a soothing manner when they are upset can be comforting.
Positive Reinforcement: Instead of focusing on the negative behaviours, reward the positive behaviours with encouragement. Children crave our adoration and attention and will keep on repeating behaviours that get a reaction from you, whether this is bad or good. Make sure your child feels seen when they go out of their way to show the good behaviour you’ve encouraged before.
Be a role model: Be mindful of your own actions and how they will influence your little one to behave. Children pick up clues on how to talk, interact, and behave from others, and as a parent or guardian, you should keep this in mind. If your child is screaming and overreacting and you respond by shouting and being frustrated, this is unlikely to be effective.
Consequences: Each household will have different ways of dealing with challenging behaviour. One way that’s helpful is by communicating with them and if suitable, giving them a second chance. If they carry on, consider their age, and try to practice the immediate consequence rule, rather than delayed consequences. A time-out is an option for more deliberate behaviours, and it is recommended to keep time out to a one-minute maximum, for every year of their age (so 4 minutes if your child is 4).

Keep in mind that challenging behaviours in toddlers and children are perfectly normal. While they learn and grow, rules will be broken, and tantrums are inevitable. If you’re concerned that there is something more going on or that their behaviours are too frequent and getting out of control, you can contact your family doctor, who could refer you to a specialist if necessary.

At Little Phase Creche, we practice careful social, emotional, and behaviour guidance in our teachings every day. We believe children are not made to be moulded and will always report back to parents if any behaviours seem concerning to us.  

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