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  • Writer's pictureLea Ray, LCSW

How to handle child behavior problems: Part 1

How to handle child behavior problems: Part 1

Last week’s post addressed the many causes of child behavior problems. A good first approach is to understand the cause of the behavior and address it. For example, it may be something simple like your child always throws a huge tantrum in the grocery store, but from last week’s post you realized that you usually do your shopping right before lunch, and they’re tired and hungry. So you try changing your shopping trip to earlier in the morning, and hopefully find that it goes better. Or, from last week’s post you realize that you may tell your child no, he can’t have another cookie, but when he whines and cries, you say “oh, ok, fine!” and give it to him. So now you need to stop giving in and hold firm even if he has a huge tantrum, and over time he will learn to stop fussing and crying. (This can be a long process and requires a lot of patience, but it is worth it in the end!).

Now, here are some foundational strategies we should all use with our children.

To get good behavior from your child, first set her up for success. Understand what is reasonable to expect from her at her age, give her interesting things to do, and help her to get plenty of rest and good nutrition. If she is having trouble communicating, teach her how to ask for what she wants, and talk with the pediatrician if her speech is delayed for her age. Speech therapy can do wonders for children’s mood and behavior. If she seems unusually impulsive or sensitive for her age, talk with the pediatrician or consider a developmental evaluation.

Next, give your child lots of positive attention when he is behaving well. Children need their parents’ attention. They need their parents to play with them, talk to them, and take an interest in their lives. They need their parents to think their ideas and their projects are interesting and cool. (Of course you won’t feel this way about every idea or project, but it’s good to generally find things you can appreciate and admire about the way your child approaches the world). Kids need their parents to notice when they are behaving well and praise them for it. This may be the single biggest thing you can do to improve your child’s behavior. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! See my earlier post dedicated entirely to this topic. Often, if a child has been misbehaving because they feel frustrated, angry, or misunderstood, those feelings will begin to melt away as their parents become more intentional about making time for them and trying to see the world through their eyes.

Third, comfort your child when she is upset or afraid. Kids do need to learn how to handle it when things don’t go their way, but parents should still offer comfort. You don’t have to swoop in and fix the problem, but a sympathetic word or a hug can go a long way, as does a listening ear if your child needs to vent. If your child’s behavior has changed in the last few weeks, it’s worth asking if something is upsetting her and offering support.

These positive strategies are the foundation that you lay to get good behavior with your child. Discipline and consequences are also necessary. Stay tuned for next week’s post about consequences. But keep in mind that consequences will only be effective if you start with the strategies laid out here.

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