How to Respond to Difficult Behavior in Children

Parenting does not always look like a scene out of a greeting card; sometimes being a parent is stressful, messy and downright difficult. Children often display behaviors that make their parents want to pull out their hair and give up. Instead of throwing in the towel, you can take a step back, take a deep breath and keep trying. With patience and perseverance, you can triumph over your child’s most challenging behaviors.

Make sure your expectations are age-appropriate. Two-year-olds are supposed to lack emotional control and display temper tantrums, but a 10-year-old who still throws fits has challenging behaviors. By elementary school, most children can respond to reason and use their words instead of resorting to violence.

Pick and choose your battles. Some behaviors aren’t serious and can be ignored, while other difficult behavior must be addressed. Don’t waste your parenting energy fighting your child on something inconsequential like your child’s choice in fashion when you can focus on his angry outbursts.

Understand that your child may not be able to control all his behavior 1. Some of the difficult behaviors may actually be the result of his natural temperament, not his choices. Most children have an easy, shy or challenging temperament. A child with a challenging temperament usually begins life as a fussy baby. These children don’t try to be difficult, but their personality can be challenging to live with.

Avoid emotional responses to your child’s behavior. Even if your child is pushing your buttons, do not push back. If you respond to his bad behavior with hysteria, he will continue to misbehave. Your child may even return your outburst with one of his own. Remain calm, even if you have to leave the room for a few minutes and count to 10 before you can deal with your child.

Model appropriate behavior. Show your child how you maintain self-control and patience. Explain to him that you are upset, but that you are choosing an appropriate response.

Praise and reward your child when he behaves appropriately or shows improvement. Let your child know exactly what he did well. Emphasize the effort he exerted instead of his character. If a child hears the empty “good boy,” praise he may think that he is normally “bad.” Focus on the positive by telling your child that you appreciate the hard work he did.

Schedule time away from your child to get some rest. A weekly date night with your partner or a girls’ night out will do wonders for your ability to deal with your child.


If you feel like you can’t handle your child’s behavior, discuss your child’s issues with his doctor. Consider seeking counseling to help you deal with the challenges of parenting.