Problem Behaviour In Children And How To Deal With It

Every day in my children’s hypnotherapy clinics, I am asked about behavioural problems. When a child is struggling with their behaviour it can have a really bad effect on the whole family.

Mum’s and Dad’s know they have to respond, but very often, they have no idea which is the best way of dealing with it. Hopefully in this blog, I will cover some of the strategies that you can use to help ease the situation.

Frequent Emotional Outbursts

When children are having meltdowns and outbursts, it is usually because they haven’t yet developed the skills they require to cope with their feelings such as: anxiety, anger, frustration etc..)  and being able to handle all these huge emotions is important for the child to develop on to the next stage, but he will need to be taught how to do this. Some skills he will need are:

  • Problem solving
  • Self- soothing
  • Self- regulation of emotions
  • Negotiation skills
  • Delay of gratification
  • Controlling impulsive behaviour
  • Communication
  • Behaving in an appropriate manner

Some children may seem to have difficulty with boundaries and rules, or they may be defiant or take no notice of instructions from teachers or parents.

As a parent, you may notice different types of behaviour appearing at certain times of the day – like bedtime for example! Or, you may realise that your child only acts up for mum and not dad or vice versa – or only plays the parents up and not the teacher at school!

Tantrums, anger outbursts and meltdowns are a normal and healthy part of a child’s development. They are a clue that the child is developing more independence and wants to be heard! He’s testing the boundaries as it were!

Tantrums can be a learned behaviour – you think about it – a child asks for some sweeties whilst you are in the supermarket – you tell him no – he cries and screams and you buy him the sweets because you don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the whole supermarket! He realises that crying and screaming gets him what he wants.

When children are acting out, parents sometimes feel totally out of control. They probably try all sorts of different techniques and strategies to help the situation but get nowhere – if you are a parent of a child with difficult behaviour – I’m going to give you some tools to work with so read on!

How to respond

  • Remain Calm. If you start screaming and shouting as well, it will just escalate the situation. By being calm you are modelling the behaviour that you expect from your child.
  • Wait until the tantrum or outburst is over to talk and negotiate, there is no point in doing it whilst the child is letting off steam – he won’t even hear you!
  • Praise positive behaviour and ignore negative behaviour. Say things like “Hey! well done for calming down so quickly – that’s brilliant!”
  • Always use consistent consequences. Make sure your child knows the consequences of negative behaviour – it could be losing time on I pad or TV – time outs – not going to the soft play on Saturday! You also need to follow through with these consequences otherwise they are worthless!
  • When the outburst /meltdown/tantrum is over, sit down with the child and talk it through.

Possible triggers to Avoid

If you are targeting a certain behaviour, it’s important to think about what happened or what was said “just before” that negative behaviour started, as this could be a clue as to what is triggering it.

This may help you prevent that behaviour. You can also look at the triggers that make positive behaviours – for example – being able to obey a command the first time – more likely!

The following things very often lead to negative behaviour.

  • Transitioning without any pre warning. Change of plans and transitions can be really hard for children, especially if they are busy playing and enjoying themselves. If you can give them a warning that you need to leave, and they need to stop doing what they are doing asap ( give them a chance to finish perhaps) it will all go a lot smoother!
  • Make sure the child knows what your expectations are! Sometimes we just assume that our children “just know” how we want them to behave. When children are unsure of what they are supposed to be doing they are likely to misbehave.
  • If you want your child to know some important instructions make sure you tell him or her when you are face- to- face, make sure he is listening and understands. There is no point calling him when he is half a mile down the road and telling him to stop at the end of the road!
  • Don’t give a series of instructions – just one at a time as children can get confused very easily.

Triggers that may boost good behaviour

  • Let you child have a choice. As they grow up it’s a good idea to start letting your child have a say in his own scheduling. You could try “Do you want to have a shower now, or after your dinner?” This can help empower them and give them a bit of responsibility.
  • Be clear on what is expected. Even if you think he should know what IS expected there is no harm in confirming that again just before he embarks on something.
  • Prepare your child for any change or transition. For example: give him a ten- minute warning about when its time to come and have his tea if he is doing his homework or playing on a game. Then again when 2 minutes left!
  • Environmental things to consider: When its time to do his homework, make sure your child is not hungry or thirsty, and that all distractions are removed.

What to do AFTER the negative behaviour!

This is important. Consequences can affect the chances that a bad behaviour may return. Some consequences are more effective than others, and they help the child to comprehend the differences between positive and negative behaviours.

Specific Behaviours

For example: Your son starts jumping on all the furniture when you go to change the baby’s nappy. He is obviously doing this for attention because you are giving all your attention to his sibling.

Solution: Ask your son to come and help you with the baby – maybe he can talk to him whilst you are changing him? Then praise him for being such a great brother.

Why does change and transitioning cause so many problems? 

One of the most common behavioural triggers in children is change and transitioning from one place or task to another. Whether it’s putting down the game console, coming to the table for dinner, leaving a friend’s party or getting ready for bed, transitions can be a time that the whole family learn to dread!

So, what can you do to make life easier?

The first thing to do is to work out what it is about the change or transition that your child if finding difficult. Usually its because they are playing and having fun and are required to stop and doing something less enjoyable, like go to bed! Some children really play up at times like this but its usually a sign that they haven’t developed emotional self -regulation skills. Other children don’t like moving on to something else if they haven’t finished doing something. Struggling with change and transitions can be a sign of a mental health disorder in some children. Youngsters with Autism, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD are all more likely to struggle with change.

Once you have worked out what you think it may be that is causing your child’s resistance to change, you can then start deciding what you think might help. If you think your child may have a mental health disorder, taking him to a paediatrician (GP first) is important.

Try these:

  • Music: Songs sometimes help children (especially little children) ease into changes and transitions. For example: “This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth…..” or “ Let’s go fly a kite….”
  • Visual reminders like posters or charts.
  • If there are transitions that your child struggles with every day, like going to the table for dinner, build some consistency and structure into that transition. For example, when it’s close to dinnertime, your child can be responsible for setting the table. Doing this routine consistently helps kids know what to expect and makes the transition easier.
  •  A Reward chart can be a good tool for transitions. Mum’s and dads can use stickers or emoji’s which will lead to a nice reward at the end of the week.
  • Praise for when the child does really well with a transition is always a good thing! For example: “ I am really impressed how you came straight up to the bathroom for your shower/bath and started to prepare for bedtime”

When should you ask for help?

ALL children have occasional tantrums or meltdowns. Acting out when it’s time to go to bed or stop playing a game is quite normal. But when children are having tantrums frequently, or it seems like they can’t control their temper at all, you may be seeing something more serious than typical problem behaviour.

Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • When the problem behaviour is interfering with your child’s ability to make friends or get along with other children
  • When the problem behaviour is causing a lot of upset at home and disturbing family life
  • When your child feels like he cannot control her anger, and it is making him feel bad about himself
  • When his behaviour is causing trouble at school with his teachers
  • When his behaviour is dangerous to himself or other children or adults

I hope this information will help you if you are struggling with a child who is showing signs of problem behaviour.

If you would like help, please contact me at:

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