Dealing With Your Child’s Acting Out or Challenging Behaviors

Parenting is a life long commitment. At times parents may feel rewarded, proud and joyful in this parenting journey. At other times parents may feel discouraged, frustrated and exhausted. It is especially difficult to enjoy parenthood when we feel defeated, rejected or need to deal with our children’s challenging behaviors.

Having an understanding of normal childhood development stages can be helpful in releasing your stress and adjusting your expectations. For instance, it can be fairly normal for a child of 2 years old to be challenging and “defiant” – the time of the “Terrible Twos.” Being prepared and knowledgeable about childhood development can help parents to be prepared, equipped and to cope with unexpected challenges.

Why do children act out?
When children act out, this can be related to many reasons. Nevertheless, it is likely that sometimes they don’t even know “why” they act out or throw a tantrum. When asking “why” doesn’t get you anywhere, it is best to move on and deal with the behaviors instead of insisting to know the reason.

However, sometimes it can be significant to explore and to develop an understanding of the messages and themes behind your child’s behaviors. Develop such understanding may be the key to solving the problem. Very frequently, children are voicing out their “needs” and asking for “help” when they act out. In another word, they need to “act out” to tell their parents an important message. Therefore, sometimes parents may need to “guess” the reasons behind your child’s behaviors despite that he or she is not able to tell you why. It is especially worthy to explore these reasons when the challenging behaviors happen repeatedly and is costing your family emotionally.

For example, it is more important to support your child in feeling secure if your child is very clingy and showing signs of separation anxiety. In another word, instead of merely forcing your child to “separate” from you, we try to deal with the psychological cause. Focusing only on the behavioral intervention without showing any understanding of your child’s emotional struggle or causes may make the matter worse.

Whether your child’s challenging behaviors have a significant psychological cause or not, it can still be very stressful, embarrassing and frustrating when your child is acting out or throwing a tantrum. Although children usually do not choose to act out or be defiant for the sake of embarrassing their parents, it is especially difficult when they are doing these in the public.

Here are some of the tips in dealing with children’s behavioral problems:

  1. Consider what is appropriate for your child’s age
  2. Consider the frequency of your child’s behaviors – is it normal for it to happen once in a while?
  3. Reflect on yourself which part of your behaviors may be responsible for his or her acting out (e.g. Are you consistent in your parenting style, expectations and whether you follow through on consequences, etc)
  4. Are your child’s needs met?
  5. Try to figure out the reasons & pattern of your child’s behaviors by Charting or paying attention to your child’s behaviors – do they happen at a particular time, place or with a particular person?
  6. Sometimes parents may need to give up asking their children “why”. It is very common for parents to ask their children “why did you do this? or why did you do this to your sister?” Your child may not be able to answer your question, especially when it’s due to an emotional cause. For example, a young child hitting his sister due to the feeling of jealousy or rejection by his mother. Some of these experiences are difficult for a child to understand and let alone to explain to an adult.
  7. 7. Focus on encouraging their positive attitude when you are teaching your child’s the appropriate manners
  8. While you are introducing the appropriate behaviors, focus on the “effort” you child has put in even though his behaviors are not “perfect.” (E.g. Comment on how hard he’s been trying vs. he still cannot do it.)
  9. Focus on the “Do’s” instead of “Don’ts” – Often times, parents say to their children “don’t do this…” We need to also provide other alternatives to our children when we don’t want them to behave certain way. Use the ACT model to set limits & provide alternatives (Please refer to the article Dealing With Children’s Anger
  10. Parents should consider being consistent in our expectations of their behaviors and consistent in our behaviors.
  11. Set firm limits and appropriate boundaries but present them with gentleness & great care.
  12. Follow through on consequences
  13. Not to react to children’s inappropriate behaviors with angry tone of voice
  14. Teaching and correcting can be done without “Yelling”