A child who misbehaves needs clear information about how to turn things around.

Tools for Dealing With Difficult Behavior in Children

by Julie Alice Huson

All children will misbehave, and every adult who cares for children has to think ahead to prepare for the tantrum in the grocery store, aggression at the playground or rudeness to an adult. Clearly, it’s important to get to the root of the issue before the bad behavior can occur, but having a reliable arsenal of tools for managing a willfully disobedient child can empower you with effective methods of encouraging a kid’s best self to shine.

Working with the Child’s Temperament

Behavior is a method of communication. A child who chooses to act out is telling the adults around him that he is displeased. Of course, giving in to every whim and request creates a child that no one will want to be around, so effective methods of discipline need to be suited to the child's nature, the extent of the bad behavior and the situation. Active, intense children may need swift and clear intervention from adults; however, more sensitive kids who might shut down further at a stern tone of voice require a gentler tactic that is still effective. Know your children and plan ahead with methods that will communicate your displeasure with his poor behavior.

Acknowledge the Small Improvements

Because there are so many ways for a child to make a misstep, you need to be prepared to celebrate when things go right. A girl who continually forgets to bring home her lunchbox from school may forget many more times but should be congratulated for the times she actually does bring it home. Tell her immediately what she did right and help her feel your approval and a sense of success in a chronic area of weakness. A boy who struggles with impulsive behavior needs to know you've noticed him not grabbing presents away from the birthday child at the party.

Use Consistency

As obvious as it sounds, a “no” or a “yes” should remain the answer despite how persistent a child may be in hoping for a different answer after endless bouts of pestering. Additionally, bad behavior that squeaks by because you're too weary to protest will teach her that you really aren’t serious about requiring something better from the child. Poor conduct in certain situations can be unlearned because it was taught to the child initially by letting it get by in the first place. A “zero tolerance policy” for what is unacceptable behavior shouldn’t change. If it does, your credibility for maintaining standards comes into question by a child looking for clear guidelines from the adult who is supposed to know best.

Model Anger Management

Your child looks to you for model behavior. A mother who loses her cool and berates a child angrily is exhibiting her own kind of questionable behavior. Everyone gets angry, but as the parent, you need to demonstrate acceptable strategies for handling frustration. Stepping away for a calming moment or counting to 10 are mature methods to control the energy of strong emotions. When you have yourself back in check, talk about your feelings with the child and assure him that everyone feels upset at times. Your actions may be noticed even more than your words, so responding to upsetting situations with restraint is the most powerful way to show your child how to handle a challenge.

About the Author

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.

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