Challenging behaviour in young children

by Caroline Gee. Dealing with a child's difficult behaviour can be quite worrying at times.

Girl with hands on cheeks, looking upset

Challenging behaviour in young children

Watching your child grow up is really exciting and rewarding, but no one ever promised it would be easy.

Dealing with difficult behaviour (whether your child is the cause or on the receiving end) can be worrying. However, this is a very common issue for parents and carers. You aren't alone - dealing with the day-to-day challenges of raising a young child isn't easy.

How CBeebies can help

Children need to understand why they - and others around them - behave as they do. Feelings can be tricky to explain, but it can be reassuring to see someone else displaying the emotions they are feeling.

Click through to the Tikkabilla pages and play the 'Emotion Theatre' game. Read the story and watch all the different feelings Tamba goes through. He is happy, sad, angry, surprised and excited at different times.

Have a chat with your child and see if they can think of any times when they have felt the same way as Tamba.

How to make a magic moment

Have a go at making an emotions mask with your child, using a paper circle of card for the face. Draw and decorate a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other.

Talk about what things we might do that would make us - or someone else - happy or sad.

Children love being praised. Have a special reward chart with some smiley face stickers that can be added. How many happy faces can your child stick on the chart today to show how fantastic their behaviour has been?

Afterwards, maybe you could make some biscuits and decorate them with a smiley face to celebrate all that brilliant behaviour!

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Expert opinion

There isn't one right way to get a child to behave themselves. Your child's temperament, your parenting style and the situation will all influence what you do.

Children learn a lot about how to behave and cope with situations by copying adults.

Positive discipline means working at building good communication, listening to your child's views but not being afraid to set clear limits and boundaries.

Eileen Hayes, Parenting and child behaviour expert, author, family counsellor and parenting coach

Top tips

  • Children always need to be reminded that it is the behaviour that is bad, not them. By consistently praising and rewarding positive behaviour and having clear sanctions for negative behaviour, children will understand the expectations and boundaries more clearly.You can begin to address challenging behaviour by observing when the incidents occur. Common triggers are tiredness, boredom, frustration, hunger and fear. If you can spot the signs showing when your child is about to lose control, you can step in to diffuse the situation.Effective soothing strategies for children who find themselves becoming angry include being given more space to move around and being taught to breathe deeply. Try to get them to control their anger by taking part in sensory activities such as listening to music, painting, having a warm bath or playing with malleable materials like play dough.Children who are on the receiving end of negative behaviour need to be reassured that it is okay to tell an adult. They have a right to feel safe and secure. Although it can be hard, we need to reinforce that walking away and telling a grown-up what has upset them is a better response than retaliating.

Parent's tale

My son, who's just turned 4, was going through a spell of naughty behaviour at the end of last year so to try and get him to behave properly we told him that the PIR sensors in each room (for the house alarm) were a direct camera feed to the North Pole so Father Christmas could see if he was being good! It worked a treat!

Hayley, From Middleton