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It can be exhausting when children are exhibiting “difficult” but common developmental behaviours. Some of these may include tantrums or meltdowns, whining, screaming, refusing to listen, bad language and fighting. It can also be emotionally and physically draining on parents or caregivers to stay calm as they attempt to give out consequences including punishments and/or rewards. Often, the same behavioural cycle is repeated the next day much to the disappointment and frustration of those around the child.

The following are a few helpful areas to be considered when dealing with difficult behaviours in children:

Maintaining a positive relationship

One of the best ways to assist in creating and maintaining positive relationships with children is to accept who they are. Being sensitive and providing empathy towards a child has been researched to enhance the caregiver relationship. A more positive relationship will also assist with a child’s behaviours and sense of self. To further maintain a positive relationship it is important to understand where they are at in many areas eg. What their strengths are, what they find a bit more challenging and what reasonable expectations are for them at this stage in their development. If expectations are consistently set too high or beyond their ability and a child is being disciplined or criticised it may leave them feeling incompetent and potentially result in some of these more difficult behaviours. It is therefore important to consider whether there is a more reasonable (perhaps smaller and more achievable) task or expectation to build up to the desired behaviour or outcome. This is one way in which children can start to feel more competent and also reduce any difficult behaviours that may develop from the difference between parent/caregiver to child expectation and reality.

Staying calm

Children often behave in order to communicate how they are feeling where they may not be able to do this through other means eg. talking. Understanding that there may be something else going on for the child can assist in taking oneself out of the equation and not take it personally but rather as a way of expressing a need or feeling that they have difficulty communicating. It is also helpful for a child to learn from the way that parents/caregivers are able to control reactions to their behaviours and not escalate the situation further. Additionally, being aware of a parent/caregiver’s own feelings that are triggered by a child’s difficult behaviour is a step towards noticing it when it starts to develop and being able to come up with a plan in managing this if it arises eg stepping out of the situation to calm down.


Whilst staying calm and maintaining a positive relationship with children is important it is also vital to problem solve to potentially reduce these issues in the first place. Some of these questions are important to consider in really understanding the target behaviour and noticing any other variables that may be playing a role.

Questions that may be helpful to ask oneself about the behaviours include:
– Is this developmentally appropriate?
– What else is going on in the child’s world right now? Eg Are they tired, hungry, bad day at school or experiencing a major life stressor?
– What is the trigger? What happened just before the behaviour started?
– Is there a way that this situation can be prevented?
– What might the child be feeling in that moment?
– Does the child know what it is expected in this situation and is it within their competency level?

There is also the opportunity to assist the child in coming up with a solution to some of their behaviour difficulties themselves if they are developmentally able. This includes being able to notice when they are feeling a particular way or in a given situation which produces the behaviour and come up with some strategies to manage this.

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Author: Kara Travouillon


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

J. Baker (2008) No More Meltdowns Future Horizons TX, Arlington
Barlow, J. and S. Stewart-Brown, (2000) Behaviour problems and group-based parent education programs. Developmental and behavioural paediatrics, 21(5)