Top tips for managing challenging behaviour

The moment you become a parent, you suddenly realise there’s no rule book. You will have some of the best moments of your life as a parent – but to accompany that, there will be tough times. Here are some tips to help manage the challenges.

Spend Quality Time

Play for a minimum of 10 mins each day with your child; something of their choice and just follow their lead. No phones, no TV, pure 1:1 attention.


Take a deep breath before you react. Give yourself a couple of seconds to think clearly about how you are going to react, try not to enter into a shouting match with your child

Give positive attention

Children crave our attention.

Give your child lots of attention for things they do well.

Children know what behaviours will get the most attention. If it’s the bad behaviour that gets you react - that’s what they'll do more of!

Reward systems

Once you have given your sticker/tangible reward – resist the temptation to take it away even if you see bad behaviour. This will
de-value the good behaviour and the child will be less likely to repeat it. A reward system should be full off positivity - no reminders of bad behaviours.

Tell your children what you do want to see instead of what you don’t

“Please walk next to me" vs "Don’t run!"

“Put your school shoes in the cupboard” vs “Why do you always leave your shoes there?!”


Have a plan in your head for what to do when things go wrong.


Is this a battle you need to have?

How can you stay calm?

Have your fair realistic consequences ready.


Shorter consequences are more effective than long drawn out consequences, i.e.: "You’re grounded for a week" is hard to stick to, and often we cave in after 2 or 3 days. Coming in half an hour earlier is much more effective.

Catch them being good

As parents we can feel like were always nagging, or the children are always doing things wrong. Try and praise the little things. That one time they remember to turn off the light, the one time they put the toys away, when they do as you have asked without resistance. Resist the thought of “well they should be doing that anyway!” and thank them for doing the task.

Look after yourself

If you don’t look after yourself emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually you won’t be able to give your children your best. Take some time a couple of times a week to recharge your batteries.

Time out (or calm down/relax/time away)

Time out should not be used as a punishment but a place for your child to learn how to self-regulate.

Time out for under 3’s can be ineffective; the toddler probably won’t understand the concept and this could damage their self-esteem.

Try and avoid demanding that your child say sorry after Timeout. Instead, thank them for calming themselves down. Taking them back to the behaviour could trigger another episode. Talk about what happened and how it can be avoided in future, when things are calm.

Time In

A child might have a tantrum because they are overwhelmed by their feelings. If parents insist on a Time Out or consequence at that point, it might make things worse. Instead, using a Time In to talk calmly - “talk the child down”, to calmly reassure or to hold them might work better.

When you name and acknowledge feelings, this helps your child understand what is happening to them and helps them learn to manage their feelings.

“Sounds like you are very cross at the moment”, “I know you are upset because we have to leave now. “It’s really hard when you can’t have your games all the time.”

“I’m proud at how calm you stayed when your brother snatched your toy” vs  Telling the brother off (this reaction gives the unacceptable behaviour of snatching  your attention rather the acceptable calm behaviour).

“It looks like you’re getting frustrated with that Lego  - can I help? ” vs “ if you get cross with that Lego I’ll put it away”.

“I can see you’re anxious because you’re wringing your hands – can I get you something to squeeze?”  vs   “Stop doing that  - you’re being silly”.

As well as using the words, use your body language to show you understand. Show a sad face or an understanding gesture – this will help your child feel listened to.

Consistency – things won’t change overnight, it could take weeks, or months of you being consistent in your approach to see positive change. Don’t give up!

Remember – You know your child better that anyone. Adapt these tips to suit your family.

Some easy reading and additional support

Positive Parenting: Bringing Up Responsible, Well-behaved and Happy Children – John Sharry

Overcoming Your Child’s Fears and Worries:  A self-help guide using cognitive behavioural techniques” by Cathy Creswell and Lucy Willetts.

No Drama Discipline: Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson