Providing care for a young child is undoubtedly an enriching, rewarding experience but it can also be exhausting and stressful, especially if you have a young child who is difficult to manage. All children have their challenging moments and every parent feels overwhelmed or hopeless at times. Reading the needs of a young person and worrying about how your parenting techniques will impact your child’s coping abilities in the future are weighty responsibilities. Luckily, there are some specific techniques to manage challenging behaviors that both improve behaviors in the present and can become building blocks for healthy behavior as your child grows and develops.
Tantrums: Children often have tantrums when they are unable to express themselves or ask for what they want. As long as the behavior does not pose risk of harm to themself or others, allow your child to have the tantrum in a safe, isolated space. Console and soothe your child when they have calmed down. If your child is able, it can also be helpful to encourage them to identify and talk about their emotions when they appear upset, frustrated, sad, or angry.
Attention-Seeking: Acting out by not listening, whining, or clinging to caregivers are ways that young children have learned to get attention from adults, even if this behavior results in negative attention such as scolding or punishment. Encourage your child to seek positive rather than negative attention by providing them with opportunities to receive praise and affection such as setting the table at mealtime.
Defiance: When children refuse to follow instructions, provide options rather than commands. For example, say calmly to the child, “You can either sit over here or play in your room” rather than “Don’t run around the house.”
Poor Play Skills: If children are aggressive with others or possessive over toys, parents can help improve their play skills by making them accountable for their actions. For instance, when your child resorts to hitting a playmate, explain that they made their friend sad and suggest they get a tissue or a toy for the other child. Reiterate rules about what “nice touches” and “nice words” are and be firm with your child that aggression will not be tolerated.
Difficulty with Transitions: Some children have trouble moving from one activity to the next. During transitions, children may be vulnerable to having meltdowns or enacting other challenging behaviors. Be sure to warn children about the transition multiple times beforehand and walk them through the process. You can say something like, “Now we are playing with our toys, but in 5 minutes we will clean up and then sit down for dinner.” It is also beneficial to include the child in the transition by assigning relevant tasks to ease along the transition.
Unsafe Behavior: Young children may attempt to explore their environment in ways that are dangerous such as climbing on furniture, locking doors, or playing with hazardous objects. Go over safety rules often and explain why certain behaviors are unsafe while emphasizing that you do not want them to get hurt because you love and care about them.
As important as it is to respond purposefully to challenging behavior, it is equally vital to take the time to care for yourself and manage your stress. If you are frequently in a state of heightened reactivity, your children will be able to perceive your stress and it can have a negative impact on their behavior and development. In order to do the best job possible at raising the children in your care it is imperative that you do your best to stay healthy, happy, and well-rested.