Young children and toddlers can all display difficult behaviour at times and this can be difficult to manage for a lot of parents.
Remember they are children and not little adults. They need to learn from you.
The way you react to your child’s behaviour is really important. For example, if you give in when your child has a tantrum they are more likely to continue to have tantrums in the future.
If their behaviour is causing you or your child distress or upsetting others it’s important to deal with it.
Triple P Online is available free in Hillingdon and is available online to support parents to support their child's emotional wellbeing and give support in being a positive parent. Please see this leaflet for more information and your Health Visitor, Keyworker, Children’s Centre, Nursery or School can make a
- Life changes – any change in a child's life can be difficult for them. This could be the birth of a new baby, moving house, a change of childminder, starting playgroup or something much smaller.
- You're having a difficult time – children are quick to notice if you're feeling upset or there are problems in the family. They may behave badly when you feel least able to cope. If you're having problems do not blame yourself, but do not blame your child either if they react with difficult behaviour.
- How you've handled difficult behaviour before – sometimes your child may react in a particular way because of how you've handled a problem in the past. For example, if you've given your child sweets to keep them quiet at the shops, they may expect sweets every time you go there.
- Needing attention – your child might see a tantrum as a way of getting attention, even if it's bad attention. They may wake up at night because they want a cuddle or some company. Try to give them more attention when they're behaving well and less when they're being difficult.
- Reward good behaviour with positive attention. If it is safe to do so, ignore any difficult or challenging behaviour. This will encourage your child to repeat the good behaviour.
- Communicate with your child and tell them what you like about their behaviour. For example, “I liked it when you put your toys away”.
- Do the same and be specific about what you don’t like about their behaviour. For example “It really upset me when you threw your book on the floor”.
- Be consistent and set clear boundaries. This help’s your child know where limits are and encourages them feeling safe and secure
- Children like to play and be engaged in different activities. Listen to your child, talk to your child, play with your child. Show them you enjoy spending time with them as this will make them happy.
Most children will seek any kind of attention, positive or negative. If it is safe to do so try to ignore any difficult or challenging behaviour.
If problem behaviour is causing you or your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, it's important to deal with it.
Do what feels right
What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the family. If you do something you do not believe in or that you do not feel is right, it probably will not work. Children notice when you do not mean what you're saying.
Do not give up
Once you've decided to do something, continue to do it. Solutions take time to work. Get support from your partner, a friend, another parent or your health visitor. It's good to have someone to talk to about what you're doing.
Children need consistency. If you react to your child's behaviour in one way one day and a different way the next, it's confusing for them. It's also important that everyone close to your child deals with their behaviour in the same way.
Do not change your plan because they cry, whinge or protest as this can lead to more tantrums or whingeing in the future.
Try not to overreact
This can be difficult. When your child does something annoying time after time, 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 can both enjoy or feel good about as soon as possible.
Find other ways to cope with your frustration, like talking to other parents.
Distract your child’s attention if you notice difficult behaviour starting or continuing, refocus attention elsewhere such as a toy or pointing out something interesting
Talk to your child
Children do not have to be able to talk to understand. It can help if they understand why you want them to do something. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road.
Once your child can talk, encourage them to explain why they're angry or upset. This will help them feel less frustrated.
Be positive about the good things
When a child's behaviour is difficult, the things they do well can 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.
You can help your child by rewarding them for good behaviour. For example, praise them or give them their favourite toy to play with.
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."
Do not give your child a reward before they've done what they were asked to do. That's a bribe, not a reward.
Time out strategies
If bad behaviour persists remove your child from the situation and put them somewhere safe but boring for 1 minute of each year of their life; for example 4 minutes for a 4 year old. This will give both of you time to calm down.
Smacking may stop a child doing what they're doing at that moment, but it does not 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.
For small children we often set boundaries to protect them and keep them away from danger or harm. It is important that you explain why boundaries are there so your child can learn.
Some tips that can help include:
- Work out where boundaries need to be. Too many are impossible to maintain and difficult for young children to understand.
- As children grow older most will test boundaries you have set. Boundaries may also need to change as they get older to reflect new behaviours and experiences.
- When your child sticks to the boundaries you have set or listens and responds to your direction give them lots of praise and positive attention.
- Resistance is normal. One way to stop this happening is to let them know why something is important. Boundaries help a child know what is acceptable and what is not.
- Boundaries work far better if they are made and agreed by everyone. This can help young children understand the boundaries in place for their safety
- Allow your child time to practice and be patient. All children may slip up now and again
Most young children will occasionally bite, hit or push another child. Toddlers are curious and may not understand that biting or pulling hair hurts.
This doesn’t mean your child will grow up to be aggressive. Here are ways to teach your child that this behaviour is unacceptable:
Don’t hit bite or kick back
This could make your child think it’s acceptable to do this. Instead, make it clear that what they’re doing hurts and you won’t allow it.
Put your child in another room
If you’re at home, try this for a short period. Check they’re safe before you leave them.
Talk to them
Children often go through phases of being upset or insecure and express their feelings by being aggressive. Finding out what’s worrying them is the first step to being able to help.
Show them you love them, but not their behaviour
Children may be behaving badly because they need more attention. Show them you love them by praising good behaviour and giving them plenty of cuddles when they’re not behaving badly.
Help them let their feelings out in another way
Find a big space, such as a park, and encourage your child to run and shout. Letting your child know that you recognise their feelings will make it easier for them to express themselves without hurting anyone else.
You could try saying things like: “I know you’re feeling angry about … “. As well as showing you recognise their frustration, it will help them be able to name their own feelings and think about them.
Temper tantrums usually start at around 18 months and are very common in toddlers as well as hitting and biting.
One reason for this is toddlers want to express themselves, but find it difficult. They feel frustrated, and the frustration comes out as a tantrum.
Once a child can talk more, they’re less likely to have tantrums. By the age of four, tantrums are far less common.
The tips below may help you cope with tantrums when they happen.
Find out why the tantrum is happening
Your child may be tired or hungry, in which case the solution is simple. They could be feeling frustrated or jealous, maybe of another child. They may need time, attention and love, even though they’re not being very loveable.
Understand and accept your child’s anger
You probably feel the same way yourself at times, but you can express it in other ways
Find a distraction
If you think your child is starting a tantrum, find something to distract them with straight away. This could be something you can see out of the window. For example, you could say, “Look! A cat”. Make yourself sound as surprised and interested as you can.
Wait for it to stop
Losing your temper or shouting back won’t end the tantrum. Ignore the looks you get from people around you and concentrate on staying calm.
Don’t change your mind
Giving in won’t help in the long term. If you’ve said no, don’t change your mind and say yes just to end the tantrum. Otherwise, your child will start to think tantrums can get them what they want. For the same reason, it doesn’t help to bribe them with sweets or treats.
If you’re at home, try going into another room for a while. Make sure your child can’t hurt themselves first.
Be prepared when you’re out shopping
Tantrums often happen in shops. This can be embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it harder to stay calm. Keep shopping trips as short as possible.
Involve your child in the shopping by talking about what you need and letting them help you.
Try holding your child firmly until the tantrum passes
Some parents find this helpful, but it can be hard to hold a struggling child. It usually works when your child is more upset than angry, and when you’re feeling calm enough to talk to them gently and reassure them
Sexual exploration and play is a natural part of childhood sexual development, and helps children develop physically and emotionally.
Sometimes children show sexual behaviour that's inappropriate or unexpected for their age. This can be because of:
- a traumatic experience
- a learning disability
- a mental health problem
If a child acts inappropriately in public, try to distract them with another activity. This can be a useful way to defuse the situation.
If you think a child's behaviour is related to an illness, speak to the healthcare professionals involved in their care and ask for advice on how to manage their behaviour.
They can tell you about local or national organisations that could help.
If you're concerned about the safety or welfare of a child, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Do not feel you have to cope alone. If you're struggling with your child's behaviour:
- talk to your health visitor – they will be happy to support you and suggest some new strategies to try
- Hillingdon children's centres offer support and parenting advice for families with children under 5
- Visit the Family Lives website for parenting advice and support, or phone their free parents' helpline on 0808 800 2222
- download the NSPCC's guide to positive parenting
- download the Institute of Health Visiting Positive Behaviour Parent Tips
- Further information is available at nhs.uk