Pregnancy week by week



Dealing with difficult behaviour


Parents react to their children’s behavior in different ways. Some are stricter than others, some are more patient than others, and so on. It’s not just a matter of how you decide to be. It’s about how you are as a person. It’s also to do with your child’s individual character. For example, some children react to stress by being loud and noisy and wanting extra attention, others by withdrawing and hiding away. You will probably find that you deal with your child’s behavior in your own way and set rules that fit the way you live and the way you are. But there will probably be times when your child’s behavior worries you or gets you down, and when nothing you do seems to work. This section will give you some pointers on how you might cope if that happens.

Understanding difficult behavior

Sometimes it can help to take a step back. Is your child’s behavior really a problem? Do you really need to do something about it now? Is it just a phase that they will grow out of? Would you be better off just living with it for a while?

It’s also worth asking yourself whether your child’s behavior is a problem for you, or for other people. Behavior that might not worry you can become a problem when other people start to comment on it.  Sometimes, taking action can actually make the problem worse. At the same time, if a problem is causing you and your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, you do need to do something about it.

Identifying the reasons for difficult behavior

Understanding your child’s behavior is often the key to finding a solution. A key to working out the underlying cause is to try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and see things from his point of view. There are a number of reasons for difficult behavior. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Any change in a child’s life, like the birth of a new baby, moving house, starting play group, or even something much smaller, can be a big deal. Sometimes children show how they are feeling in the only ways they know how.

  • Children are very quick to pick up on it if you are feeling upset or there are problems in the family. Their behavior may be difficult to manage just at the time when you feel least able to cope. If you are having problems, don’t blame yourself-but don’t blame your child either if they react in a difficult way.

  • Sometimes your child may react in a particular way because of the way you have handled a problem in the past. For example, if you have given sweets to keep them quiet at the shops, they may well scream for sweets every time you go there.

  • Could you accidentally be encouraging difficult behavior? Your child might see a tantrum as a way of getting attention (even if it’s angry attention) or waking up at night as a way of getting a cuddle and a bit of company. Try giving them more attention when they are behaving well and less when they are being difficult.

  • Think about the times when your child’s behavior is most difficult to manage. Could it be because they are tired, hungry, over-excited, frustrated or bored?

Changing your child’s behavior

1)      Do what feels right

It’s got to be right for your child, for you and for the family. If you do something you don’t believe in or that you don’t feel is right, the chances are it will not work. Children are quick to pick up when you don’t really mean what you are saying!

2)      Stick at it

Once you have decided to do something, give it a fair trial. Very few solutions work overnight. It’s easier to stick to something if you have someone to support you. Get help from your hubby, a friend, family, or another parent. At the very least, it’s good to have someone to talk to about what you are doing.

3)      Try to be consistent

Children need to know where they stand. If you react to your child’s behavior in one way one day and a different way the next, it’s confusing. It’s also important that everyone close to your child deals with the problem in the same way.

4)      Try not to over-react

This can be very hard! When your child does something annoying, not just once but time after time, your own feelings of anger and frustration are bound to build up. It’s easy to get wound up and end up taking your feelings out on your child. If this happens, the whole situation can start to get out of control.

Of course, you would have to be superhuman not to show your irritation and anger sometimes, but trying to keep a sense of proportion. Once you have said what needs to be said and let your feelings out, try to leave it at that. Move on to other things that you can both enjoy or feel good about. And look for other ways of coping with your feelings.

5)      Talk to your child

Children don’t have to be able to talk back to understand. And understanding why you want them to do something can help. Explain why, for example, you want your child to hold your hand while crossing the road.

6)      Encourage your child to talk

Giving your child the opportunity to explain why they are angry or upset will help reduce their frustration.

7)      Be positive about the good things

When a child’s behavior is really difficult, it can come to dominate everything. What can help is to say or show when you feel good about something they have done. You can let your child know when they make you happy by just giving them some attention, a hug, or even a smile. There doesn’t have to be a reason. Let your child know that you love them just for being themselves.

8)      Rewards

You can help your child by rewarding them for behaving well, for example by praising them or giving them their favourite snack. If your child behaves well, tell them how pleased you are. Be specific. Say something like, “I loved the way you put your toys back in the box when I asked you! Well done!”

Don’t give your child reward before they have done what they were asked to do. That is a bribe, not reward, and bribes don’t work!


9) Praise goes a long way in building and developing a positive relationship and a willing child.

10) Extra help with difficult behavior

You can get help for especially difficult behavior, so don’t feel you have to go on coping alone. Some children may need to be referred to a specialist where they can get the help they need. Having a child whose behavior is very difficult can put a huge strain on you. Talk to your doctor if you are finding it hard to cope.

While dealing with tantrums, parents have to first understand the common triggers that lead to tantrums:

  • Overuse of the word no: this fails to have the desired effect when you really do mean it
  • Inconsistent parenting: both parents must work by the same set of rules to avoid your toddler becoming confused

  • Being over-stimulated: a child watching hours of TV ceases to use his imagination. He becomes over-stimulated and quickly bored if he’s not entertained

  • It is normal for toddlers to have tantrums, especially when they cannot do something they want. They need you to help them learn how to cope with strong emotions, support and encourage them to do new things and give them confidence in themselves.


Every parent experiences frustration with their child at various times. It is at these times that a parent may smack in the heat of the moment, but this is an outlet for the parent’s frustration, rather than a helpful way of influencing the child’s behaviour. Smacking does not teach children self-discipline

Smacking may stop a child doing what they are doing at that moment, but it will not have a lasting positive effect. In fact smacking usually has to increase in severity in order to have the same impact on your growing child. This is when the thin line between smacking and hitting can be crossed. Children learn by example, so if you hit your child, you are effectively telling them that hitting is an okay way to behave. Children who are treated aggressively by their parents are more likely to be aggressive themselves. It’s better to teach by example that hitting people is wrong. There are lots of alternatives to smacking as a way of controlling your child’s behavior.

There are many positive alternatives to smacking

Teaching children from a young age by setting limits and explaining reasons for these limits helps to instill self-discipline. Be firm and consistent. Ignore trivial unacceptable behaviour and reward good behaviour. Children learn best by attention to things they do well.

                                 Hitting, Biting, Kicking and Fighting

Most young children will occasionally bite, hit or push another child. Toddlers are also curious and may not understand that biting or pulling hair hurts. This doesn’t mean your child is going to grow up to be aggressive. Here are some suggestions for how you can teach your child that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

  • Don’t hit, bite or kick back. This could have the opposite effect of making your child think that it’s okay to do this. Instead, make it clear that what they are doing hurts, and that you will not allow it.
  • Take them out of the situation. If you are with other children, say you will leave, or ask the other children to leave, unless your child’s behavior improves-you will have to carry it out for this approach to work!

  • If you are at home, try putting your child in another room (check that it’s safe for them) for a short period.

  • Talk. Children often go through patches of insecurity or upset and let their feelings out be being aggressive. Finding out what is worrying them is the first step to being able to help.

  • Show them you love them, but not their behavior. Children behaving aggressively are not always easy to love. But extra love may be what is needed.

  • Helping your child let their feelings out some other way. Just letting your child know that you recognize their feelings will make it easier for them to express themselves without hurting anyone else.

  • Ask an expert. If you are seriously concerned about your child’s behavior, talk to your doctor


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