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How to Address Challenging Behaviors in Children

challenging behaviors

We know that having healthy childhoods includes developing healthy social and emotional skills, which can lead to healthy behaviors. However, all children will showcase some behaviors that are not ideal, which is a part of growing up. Knowing what to do if your child is showing challenging behaviors starts with understanding what is typical versus not typical.

Typical Challenging Behaviors Based on the Child’s Age

Toddlers:

  • Tantrums
  • Saying “No!”
  • Beginning to show independence
  • Physical aggression like biting or hitting

Preschoolers:

  • Testing the limits of rules
  • Asks “Why?”
  • Telling lies or arguing

School-age:

  • Challenging rules or failing to comply with them
  • Acting bossy or wanting to be in control
  • Showing strong independence

Teenagers:

  • Defiance against rules or authority
  • Argumentative
  • Drastic changes in appearance
  • Spending a lot of time on their phones or hanging out with friends
  • Asserting independence

Challenging Behaviors That Are Not Typical or Healthy

  • Self-harm or causing psychical harm to others
  • Suicidal statements
  • Aggressive actions like choking, biting, hitting and throwing
  • Explosive disruptions in the classroom or making threats
  • Consistently not responding to directions of higher authority and showing general noncompliance
  • Stealing
  • Bullying, insulting and fighting others
  • Inappropriate touching of others
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Dramatic changes in typical school performance
  • Excessive isolation/not wanting to be around loved ones
  • Running away or not coming home for extended periods of time
  • Exhibiting dangerous behaviors on the internet

Strategies That Can Help Prevent Challenging Behaviors

In parenting, there are many strategies to help teach desired behaviors. Here are some strategies that can help prevent the typical challenging behaviors.

  1. Practice: Create teachable moments after a negative behavior is displayed. In a calm manner, show your child what you want them to do instead and help them practice. These teachable moments can also occur after a positive behavior by telling your child validating phrases and praise such as, “I like the way you did that.”
  2. Praise: Aim for the 90:10 rule. Praise should be given out 90% of the time and limit-setting or discipline should only be used 10% of the time. When you catch your child doing something good, reinforce that behavior with positive praise.  
  3. Persist: Remain consistent in your rules and routines. Children flourish when they know what to expect and what goals to meet. When you are consistent and predictable, you and your child are on the same page with what you expect from each other.

How Mental Health Can Affect Challenging Behaviors

All behaviors are a form of communication for children. Challenging behavior is not due to a “bad child” or “bad parenting.” Challenging behavior can be the result of many elements, including an underlying mental health need and/or the effects of negative life experiences. Often times, these needs require additional support from a professional. Here’s some ways to get the help you may need if your child is exhibiting persistent challenging behaviors:

  1. Consult a professional. Speak with your family’s physician or a licensed mental health professional to examine the child for an accurate assessment and diagnosis of their physical and mental health.
  2. If the child expresses thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately.Take these symptoms very seriously and get them professional help as soon as possible.
  3. Be observant of their behaviors. Watch for challenging behaviors and keep track of the situations that occur before, during and after. This will help identify triggers and serve as a road map for improving and managing the behaviors.
  4. Lean on your support system. From immediate and extended family members to your child’s teachers to sport coaches and more, use the positive people in your child’s life as a support group to help improve the behaviors. This way, every interaction with an adult can be used as a positive one and your child can have more positive role models.
  5. Create a safe space where they feel they can openly share. Encourage frequent, honest conversations. Ask them how they’re feeling and allow them the time and space to open up as they’re ready. Just letting them know you are there for them to have a judgment-free conversation will build trust.

For more information on understanding child behavior, download our FREE Quick Assessment: Does My Child or Teen Need Professional Help?

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