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Everybody struggles sometimes with their child’s behaviour; however, some children are more challenging to parent than others. This may be due to neurodevelopmental difficulties, sensory differences, difficulties with emotion regulation, or a sensitive / anxious temperament.

Some behaviours can be particularly challenging to manage. Common behaviours parents tell us they can struggle with include: meltdowns, aggressive and destructive behaviour, self-injury, and repetitive behaviours. There is a lot of similarity in how we can manage and support some of these behaviours. Don’t give up on the basic parenting strategies below, for further support see the ‘Need more information?’ section at the bottom of the page.

Key things to remember:             

  • Your child is doing the best they can. Try to hold on to a positive view of your child - the behaviour is the problem, not your child.
  • Behaviour is a communication (e.g. of distress, anger, anxiety, frustration), especially when a person finds it hard to put their thoughts and feelings into words.
  • Behaviour can be a way of getting needs met (e.g. attention, self-soothing, avoiding something). If a child gets what they want as a result of their behaviour, they are more likely to do it again.
  • Behaviour can also be about testing boundaries and feeling safe.
  • The way we behave will affect the way our child behaves. Children pick up on our stress and react to it. Also, the way we respond to their difficult behaviour will influence how quickly they are able to calm down or act differently in future.
  • Prevention is key. Whilst it is important to know how best to respond in the middle of a meltdown, we also need to work towards understanding the behaviour so we can change things to make it less likely to happen again in future.

What you can do to help

  • Take a positive approach: pay attention to things your child is doing well, use praise and rewards; spend time doing fun things together.
  • Use distraction, and ignore bad behaviour where you can.
  • Be united and consistent as caregivers so your child knows what to expect.
  • Look after yourself so you have the energy to respond to difficult behaviour in the way you would like to.
  • Remain calm when your child becomes upset. Focus first on helping them re-find their calm. When a child is overwhelmed by their emotions and out of control, they are not able to think rationally. Don’t try to talk to them about their behaviour or threaten new consequences at this time, as your child is likely to become more upset. First, help them to calm down, eg by holding them silently, leading them to a quiet place to be alone.
  • Comfort your child, let them know their feelings are important and that they are loved.
  • Work towards prevention: try to understand why your child is acting the way they are.

    What is the behaviour showing you? What are they feeling? Tired? Hungry? Bored? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? What has led to them being upset?

    Is there a purpose to the behaviour? To get something they want? To get out of doing something they don’t want? What is triggering the behaviour or reinforcing it?

    When is your child at their best? What can you change about the environment or your interactions to encourage the behaviour you want?

  • For more advice, please see our behaviour booklet below.

How can we help

Further information from our service on Booklet Managing Behaviour that Challenges leaflet

Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service:

Parent workshop on sensory differences

The Early Help Team provide tailored parenting advice and one-to-one support through family workers. They also offer parenting courses, such as Stepping Stones (for parents of children aged 2-12 years old with additional needs).

If you continue to be concerned about your child’s behaviour, please speak to your paediatrician or GP. They could consider referring you to meet with a psychologist or to further support through other local organisations.

Need more information?


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