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My Child Has Behavior Issues—What Can I Do?

Parenting a child with behavior problems is difficult. It is possible to deal with and improve your child’s behavior issues. Find out how on HealthyPlace.

Having a child with behavior issues can put a strain on the entire family. Of course, you love your child, but their problem behavior can seem to consume all your time and energy. What’s a parent to do? The first thing to do is to know that this situation isn’t hopeless—there is much you can do to improve family life when your child has behavior issues. Keep reading to discover more of what you can do to make positive changes.

What are Child Behavior Issues?

Behavior issues are problem behaviors that don’t reach the level of a diagnosable disorder like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Child behavior issues like defiance, disruptiveness, and uncooperativeness are hard for parents to deal with, but equipped with a new perspective and skillset, you can help your child with behavior issues.

The ABCs of Reducing Behavior Issues

There are three key concepts to ending child behavior problems (Child Mind Institute, n.d.):

  • Antecedents: Know what your child has experienced to trigger the undesirable behavior
  • Behaviors: Clearly identify how your child is misbehaving.
  • Consequences: Kids need the structure of limits and consequences so they know how to behave and what will happen if they don’t.

With this ABC framework in mind, there are particular do’s and don’ts for helping reduce your child’s behavior issues.

When working with your child to change their behavior, you can do these things:

  • Respond rather than react to your child. Instead of instantly becoming angry at your child for something they did or said, breathe slowly and deeply, and speak kindly and gently ("Impact of a Reactive Parent on a Child's Self-Control").
  • Establish clear rules and expectations as well as positive and negative consequences for breaking them.
  • Have situational awareness. Watch for overstimulation, distractions, hunger, thirst, fatigue, rising stress. When you notice that your child is becoming upset, remove yourselves from the vicinity and help your child calm down.
  • Use time outs. Used right, these aren’t punishments. Having a comfortable, inviting place for your child to be will help them calm down. Keep it brief, and if your child is old enough, they can decide when they’re ready to come out.
  • Prepare your child for transitions.  Many kids have difficulty stopping what they’re doing to suddenly do something else. Develop a consistent way to let your child know it’s almost time to switch gears. Help them know what time the transition will happen, and give brief warnings as the time approaches.
  • Give positive attention for positive behavior. Rewarding positive behavior is more effective than simply dealing with negative behavior. Many parents find it effective to have a menu of rewards (extra privileges, a movie night, or other such positive reinforcement that suits your child).
  • Be consistent in all that you do. Kids learn from the discipline you use. To truly change child behavior issues, it’s important to be clear and consistent in your expectations.
  • Allow choices. When kids don’t feel trapped and ordered about, they feel empowered. Having choices reduces a child’s need to behave negatively.

When dealing with difficult behavior, avoid these things:

  • Assuming your child knows want you expect. Kids often break rules because they didn’t fully understand them. If you already told your child what you expect in certain situations, they may have forgotten. What seems like behavior issues might not be deliberate defiance.
  • Yell your instructions or give consequences for misbehavior from a distance. If you’re in the kitchen and you shout something to your child in another room, chances are they won’t grasp it.
  • Rushing through transitions. Neglecting the much-needed time for kids to transition from one activity or another is setting yourself up for your child’s behavior issues.
  • Giving a string of instructions or asking your child many questions in quick succession. Your child won’t fully follow your words, which will likely result in behavior issues.
  • Yelling at or criticizing your child. This can be humiliating and risks your child stepping up the behavior issues.
  • Making consequences and punishments too harsh can overwhelm kids and make them give up and continue with their problem behavior.

Final Tips for Dealing with Child Behavior Issues

Remind yourself that your child’s behavior has antecedents or triggers. Nothing your child says or does when misbehaving is personal. When you realize that your child isn’t reacting this way because of you, it’s easier to remain calm and neutral.

Pick your battles. Trying to correct every issue, risks overwhelming your child as well as intensifying negative behavior. Knowing your values and goals you have for your child will help you decide which issue to deal with first. You can start with something small and easy or tackle one big issue that is important to you.

Parenting a child with behavior issues isn’t easy. You can help your child by following the ABCs of disciplining problem behavior.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, August 7). My Child Has Behavior Issues—What Can I Do?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/behavior-disorders/my-child-has-behavior-issues-what-can-i-do

Last Updated: August 13, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD