Parenting Tips On How To Handle Difficult Behaviors Without Negatively Affecting Your Children

By: Nadia Khan

Updated July 12, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Heather Cashell

Becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling life experiences. It is also one of the most difficult. Children do not come with an owner's manual, and they are each created differently. So, what works for one child will not necessarily work for the next. Children are a constant puzzle that needs to be figured out and put together. With all the different stages that children go through on the path to adulthood, it is no surprise that there will be difficult behaviors along the way. What is essential, however, is how you react to them.

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Why Are Children Difficult

There are so many dimensions to children that can cause them to display difficult behaviors. In infants and toddlers, they are learning how to navigate the world. That means that they are testing their limits and exploring the ins and outs of life. They do not understand yet what the rules of your household are, and it is your job to teach them. However, they will not make it easy for you. As you set rules and expectations on your children, they will push back to both see how serious you are about upholding them and see what happens if they break the rules. In pre-teen and teenagers, they are attempting to display more independence in the world and tend to push back against the rules to govern themselves.
 
Children can also become increasingly difficult to deal with when they are going through stressful situations or when the rules are not routinely enforced. Children are creatures of habit and the more of a routine that they have, the more likely it is that they will fall into listening to the rules in no time. Some children are bounced around throughout their life, and the feeling of instability leads to some difficult behaviors.
 
Children can also exhibit some difficult behaviors after being diagnosed with some medical conditions, such as autism. Children with autism learn and react in very different ways than children that do not have Autism. While it may appear that they are "bad," children with autism may merely be reacting to a change in their environment. If you have a child that has been diagnosed with autism, or another medical condition, it is important that you educate yourself on these disorders and how they may impact your child's reactions and responses.
 

How To Identify The Child's Behavior

The first step to changing the way you react to a stressful situation with your child is identifying and understanding the bad behavior that is causing it. What is it that you find stressful? If your child is acting out at dinner by crying, yelling or not eating, try to identify the cause of this behavior. Are they uncomfortable? Are they sick? Ensure that their basic needs are met and that this is not contributing to their reaction.

After ruling out a simple basic need that isn't being met, then try pinpointing the specific behavior and why they are reacting the way that they are. Yes, they are crying and upset, but is it because their dinner is not there yet, and they are hungry? Or could they have a tummy-ache? Could they be over-tired? Most times, there is a culmination of factors that play into children's behaviors. This is what makes it even more difficult to peel back the layers of difficult behaviors to get to the root of why they are occurring.

Some of the worst behaviors that parents identify are:

  • Biting
  • Hitting self or others
  • Temper-tantrums
  • Refusing to eat or spitting food out
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Not listening

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Choose Your Best Response

If your child is having a difficult behavior that is making them a danger to themselves or others, it is essential that you receive help from the authorities right away. Contact your local law enforcement or call an ambulance to have your child assessed. If they are to the point where they are going to hurt themselves or someone else, that needs to be addressed by a professional immediately.

It is very important that you try not to react at the moment if you are feeling stressed or upset. While it may feel impulsive to give a screaming child a backhand, it is both inappropriate and unproductive. Research has shown that hitting children as a form of discipline is confusing to them and, while it instills fear, it does not those children them how to rectify their behaviors.
 
Children understand that they are "difficult" but are left not knowing how to change their behaviors for the better. It has also been shown that using physical discipline towards your child can also be detrimental to your relationship with them. To avoid this, realize that irrational reactions are not the solution. Most parents want to be the best examples of themselves for their children and hitting them for making a mistake is not the best way to teach them.

Here are some parenting tips to consider when your children are difficult:

  • Before you respond, take a deep breath and slowly exhale

This will help your heart rate to come down, your brain to get essential oxygen, and for you to think more clearly.

  • Understand that while you may be upset at your child's behavior, it does not change how much you love them
You want to change the behavior, not the child. So, give them love and affection. Giving them a hug when they are most worked up may help to turn their behaviors around and into a positive direction.
  • Talk calmly and quietly

You do not have to yell to get your point across to them. Often, when you speak in a quiet manner, they will automatically quiet down also so that they can hear what you are saying.

  • Give clear, concise warnings and consequences
Make it known to your child that after one warning, if they display behaviors that are unsafe or inappropriate, they will receive a consequence. Be sure to tell them right away what the consequence is and ensure that you are not giving an empty threat. If you say them that you're going to take away their video games if they curse at you, then be sure to follow through with that consequence. This shows them that you mean what you say and that you follow through with it.
  • Avoid using profanities and negative language

You do not want to berate your child for doing something wrong. Simply explain to them what was wrong and how it should be different. If you scold them over a poor decision that they made, it can negatively affect their self-esteem, and they will turn to other negative behaviors to receive reassurance. They may even begin to copy your poor language choices towards others.

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We're All Human

It is important to acknowledge that you are human, and you will get frustrated. That is natural. What is essential is that you do not respond in such a way that causes your child to become abused or neglected. Demonstrating self-control in even the most difficult situations is necessary.

However, if you do react in a way that you wish you didn't, apologize to your child. Did you snap a bit more than you should have when their bed was not made? Did you use a wrong word when they dumped a juice box all over the floor? Turn a poor choice quickly into a teaching moment for both you and your child by apologizing and admitting what you did was wrong, why it was wrong and how it will be different next time. This teaches your child how to bounce back from a rough moment without spiraling out of control.

By apologizing to your child, you are acknowledging that you did something wrong and that you have enough respect for them to apologize for your actions. It is important that they see that anyone can make a mistake and how to handle it appropriately.
 

How To Seek Help

If you feel as though your reactions are out of anger and you do not feel within the control of yourself, it may be time to seek professional help. This is important to recognize so that in the heat of a difficult moment, you do not irrationally choose a reaction towards your child that involves them getting hurt, either emotionally or physically.

When you feel as though you are getting stressed out, before reacting, reach out to a friend or family member to assist you. Simply taking a break from each other may allow both you and your child to calm down and then process what happened together.

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If you feel that there is more stress than joy in your home, it may be time to consider utilizing a counseling service that you can trust. At BetterHelp, licensed counselors are available for counseling in a private and secure setting. These sessions occur online and are flexible to your schedule. You can connect to a licensed counselor when your children are in bed if that is what best suits your needs.

A licensed counselor can provide you with some parenting tips to help manage your child's behaviors, but also how to manage your stressors. A licensed counselor can also provide you and your child with family counseling that you may need to get through these difficult situations. There is no shame in reaching out for help. By taking control of your life, you are demonstrating to yourself and your children that you are willing to do whatever it takes to improve the quality of life for your entire family.

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