How to Improve Behavior in Developmentally Delayed Children

Parenting children with developmental delays can be challenging, especially when problem behaviors pop up. Behavioral problems may stem from normal childhood issues, but can be compounded by your child's condition. Instead of tearing out your hair and giving up, try positive reinforcement to gradually improve your child's behavior. With consistency, time and patience, your little one will behave like an angel. Well, almost . . .

  1. Learn about your child's delay. The term "developmental delay" can describe a wide array of conditions that will respond differently to discipline. A developmental delay can include problems with learning, fine or gross motor skills, social or emotional skills, speech and language development, problem solving skills or a combination of these factors. Ask your child's doctors or therapists to explain the nature of your child's delay and how it might impact his behavior.

  1. Communicate expectations clearly to your child. He may need you to explain what you are asking several times. Try role playing with your child so he fully understands what good choices look like.

  1. Implement a rewards system to improve behavior. Develop a visual sticker or stamp chart to track desired behaviors. Determine what behavior you would like to increase, such as using the toilet or picking up toys. Discover what is rewarding to your child. Stickers, small toys or little candies are rewarding for most children. Offer a reward every time your child has completed that task five times. When the behavior has become a reliable habit, change to a new behavior.

  1. Allow your child to learn consequences for poor choices. Generally, natural consequences associated with your child's negative behavior are most effective. If he hits someone with his toy, take away the toy. Remove the cat from the room if your child is playing too roughly with it. Ignore your child if he is misbehaving to get attention.

  1. Praise your child when he does well. Reinforce any positive behavior you see. Try to "catch" him making good choices!

  1. Arrange playdates for your child. Successful social interaction with friends can improve child's self-confidence, moral development and behavior. Children with developmental delays sometimes struggle socially and are not always accepted by kids their age. Help your child learn to play with others by arranging a playdate with a child that you know will play well with yours. Be present during play and show your child how to appropriately respond to his playmate. He can learn how to succeed in social arenas.

  1. Use a picture schedule to help your child feel secure and in control of his environment. Draw three squares on a piece of poster board that will serve as your picture schedule. Label these squares 1, 2 and 3. Cut out squares of poster board the same size as the squares on your poster. Draw a picture or cut out pictures of an activity your child must complete and glue to each square. Examples include painting, going grocery shopping, going swimming or cleaning his bedroom. Glue a piece of velcro to the back of each picture square and to the empty squares on your picture schedule. Each morning you can affix the squares with the day's activities onto the schedule. Your child can easily see which activities are planned for the day and may be less likely to act out.

  2. Tips

    Be consistent! With consistent discipline and rewards, children will eventually improve their behavior.


    Avoid harsh punishments that child may not even understand. Yelling at him or spanking him may only make him angry and won't improve his general behavior.