Child behaviour management: A Guide for Parents

Behaviour management is part and parcel of being a parent or carer. All children will at some point display challenging behaviour and in the heat of the moment knowing what to do can be hard. Putting the right behaviour management techniques into practice can be even harder.

In this short introduction to child behaviour management strategies for parents and carers, our youth counsellors have put together a guide to managing challenging behaviour. If you have ever struggled with child behaviour problems and looked for useful techniques, this article could be helpful.

There are no quick fixes for challenging behaviour

Let’s get this out of the way up front: when it comes to child behaviour management strategies, there are no quick fixes. There is no magic bullet and no special trick.

Patience and a willingness to forgive are the foundations. Then it is a matter of perseverance and a compassion-based approach using a range of different tools. Often it will be a case of testing options to find out which combination works best for your child and circumstances.

In the long run, effort spent trying to find a short-cut that does not exist could be better used putting tried and tested behaviour management techniques into action.

What is the message behind a child’s behaviour?

Behaviour is a form of communication. When a child is well behaved and engaged with their parent they are saying, without words, that they are loved, happy, content and enjoying your time and your attention.

Conversely, challenging behaviour can often be sending a different message. The challenge for parents and carers is to understand this: what is the message behind my child’s challenging behaviour?

For example, disobedience may be an attempt to establish control due to feelings of anxiety or out of control situations in their life. Disengagement may be due to low self-esteem, low levels of self-confidence or as a response to traumatic events elsewhere in their life.

Equally, challenging behaviour may not be rooted in emotional issues. As a child grows, their desire to assert their own independence does too. Therefore, sometimes the message is simply this: I want to be independent so I’m going to push your boundaries!

Be aware of nonverbal communication

Though the number is often disputed, Professor Albert Mehrabian’s finding that nearly 90% of communication is nonverbal was a groundbreaking insight. When it comes to managing challenging behaviour at home, it is an essential consideration.

When dealing with child behaviour problems it is important to try and consider our body language and tone of voice. Though we may be trying to find diplomatic words, how we sound, our facial expressions and the positioning of our body may communicate a different emotion.

Displaying emotions of frustration or anger towards a child who is displaying challenging behaviour is likely to make things worse.

The difficult emotions that are behind their behaviour – sadness, fear, anxiety – are often made worse by confrontation with a parent or carer. Especially if the child interprets nonverbal cues as effectively saying “you are making me really angry” or “I don’t love you right now”.

Child behaviour management through corrective learning

It can be tempting to respond to behaviour problems with some form of punishment. Often confiscating their mobile, changing the Wi-Fi password or pulling the plug on the TV feels like the only option.

In many situations, these can be suitable responses. However, behaviour management techniques suggest a focus on corrective learning.

What does our response to challenging behaviour say to the child?

If a child is refusing to eat their dinner a typical parental response might be no supper or pre-bedtime snack. A child may interpret this to be saying – nonverbally – that the difficult emotions they are experiencing (the cause of the behaviour) are not important to their parent(s) and their parents are now doing something that makes them feel worse (i.e. leaving them hungry before bed).

A corrective learning alternative could be to still provide supper but limit options so they are unable to have their favourite option.

In this approach to behaviour management, we are showing that we still care about them and will continue to provide for them, no matter their behaviour. Secondly, that undesirable behaviour has consequences and thirdly, that their decisions and actions influence the world around them.

Resources and support for parents and carers

The Spark is a leading provider of counselling and support for families, children and young people. Since 1965 we have been helping parents and carers do the very best they can in raising their families.

We regularly publish free information and guides for parents on our website. Topics range from bonding with your newborn to difficult issues like behaviour managementsexting and self-harm.

Our counsellors work with families, children and young people who are finding life challenging. All are members of their respective governing bodies with advanced qualifications and experience.

To find out more, speak to one of our advisors on 0808 802 2088 or contact us online. You can read more about our child and youth counselling services and family counselling on our website.

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