Eight Practical Tips for Parents of Young Children with Challenging Behavior

— Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Division of Learning Disabilities (DLD)
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Has life with your young child become filled with conflict and confusion? Does it seem as if even the simplest activity can turn quickly into disaster when your child’s behavior is out of control? Are you beginning to feel as if things are getting worse instead of better? You’re not alone. Many, if not most, parents find themselves struggling with the challenging behavior of their young child at some point in time. The good news is that there are evidence-based, effective strategies that you can use to create positive solutions for your family.

How to Use This List

Review each of the tips below and think about situations you have experienced that are similar to the provided examples. You will need to decide which strategies are likely to work best for your family. You might want to try one or two of the strategies at first and then add others as you become more comfortable with the process. Remember, the idea is to develop specific approaches for your own family that can be used in everyday life.

Tip #1: Keep Your Expectations Realistic

It is important for you to know and understand your child’s abilities and limitations. When you expect too much or too little from your child it can lead to problems and frustrations for you both. ~You are in a restaurant with a group of friends. The waiter took your order over 30 minutes ago and your food still hasn’t arrived. 2 ½ year-old Simone is getting impatient—she is throwing her crayons and saying that she wants down. Instead of getting angry and frustrated with her for acting up, try taking her for a short walk to give her and others a needed break.~

Tip #2: Plan Ahead

Try to anticipate what your child may do or need in various situations. Make sure that you plan ahead to set your child up for a successful experience. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Always have a back-up plan! ~Your family is in the car headed to your mother’s house for dinner. It is usually a short drive, but rush-hour traffic is snarled, it’s 6:30 pm, and you’re already 45 minutes late. Your 3 year-old is screaming for food in the backseat. Luckily, you remembered to bring some snacks and a sippy cup of water to hold him over until you can make it home~

Tip #3: Clearly State Your Expectations in Advance

Some undesirable behavior occurs because your child can’t act differently, other times it occurs because your child simply doesn’t want to act differently. Either way it helps for you to remember that your child cannot read your mind. Be sure to give your child one clear instruction so that he knows what it is that you want him to do. ~You are visiting at your sister’s house and your daughter has been playing with her favorite cousin. Over the course of the afternoon, toys have been tossed aside and scattered throughout the room. When you say, “Come on Alicia, it’s time to get ready to go!” she ignores you completely and continues to play. A better approach might be to say, “All right, time to get going. Alicia, let’s start by putting the blocks in their box. I see it over there in the corner!”~

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