Behavioral Management for Difficult Children

Every parent dreams of having children who behave like perfect angels at all times, and every parent has a dose of reality when their child misbehaves. Children, much like you, are not perfect. You can raise them right, teach them manners and teach them right from wrong and they will still misbehave, make mistakes and make you angry. Kids are just like that. However, if your child is difficult beyond the realm of normal childhood behavior, you probably find it more challenging to discipline your child and manage his behavior. Behavioral management is a good start.

Understanding the Behavior

The first step in behavioral management for difficult children is learning to understand your child. Your child, according to Minnell Tralle, extension educator in the University of Minnesota’s Family Development Department, is different than your other children. This means that learning to understand your child will make managing his behavior easier. For example, once you recognize that your child is easily angered, you can set boundaries and consequences that cater to your child’s individual personality. For example, if your son angers easily, you know that you have to set boundaries that make it clear to him that yelling and hitting are not appropriate ways to express anger. You could try making it a rule that your son has to stop, count to 10 and come find you to discuss in a calm voice what has him upset. This will help him learn to channel his anger more appropriately.


Managing your child’s behavior is easier when you know what works and what doesn’t work. According to Ron Walker, president of Walker Educational Consulting Inc., consequences for your child are an easy way to manage her behavior 1. By understanding that negative consequences, such as time-out and losing privileges are only temporary fixes to your child’s behavior, you will begin to understand how to better manage your child’s behavior. It is appropriate to punish your child using a method such as this when she is misbehaving, but this type of punishment will not change her attitude, just her current behavior, which explains why your child’s difficult behavior does not seem to improve.

Positive Reinforcement

According to Walker, the key to managing your child’s behavior long-term is positive reinforcement. Children are more likely to respond to positive reinforcement than to negative consequences. For example, you can put your child in time out for taking a toy from her younger brother, but chances are slim this will stop her from doing it again in the future. However, praising your daughter for sharing toys with her younger brother will make her feel good, and that’s a feeling she is likely to remember for a long time. Positive reinforcement shows her what it’s like to feel good, which helps her want to behave in the future so that she can experience that again.

Ignoring Certain Behaviors

You cannot ignore your child when he decides to hit his younger brother or run out into the street in anger. Dangerous and harmful behaviors demand immediate attention. However, certain behaviors, such as whining and crying and temper tantrums can be ignored, advises Dr. Alan Kazdin from Yale University’s Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. This form of behavioral management can take annoying behaviors and make them ineffective for your child. For example, if your child wants to go outside and play and you tell him that he has to wait until you are finished feeding the baby, he might decide to throw a temper tantrum. If he does this, ignore him. Do not react to his whining or crying or stomping and screaming in any way. A reaction from you is what he’s looking for, even if it’s a negative reaction such as a time out. By pretending he’s not even there, he will learn that his behavior is ineffective and is likely to stop using that form of behavior as often.