Managing challenging behaviour in children
Different children react differently to the family monsters and experiences within their lives. Often one child may have no side effects or developments in behaviour whilst another may experience behavioural changes. Some children may have had difficult experiences during their early years and some might have feelings of loss, suffered trauma and/or develop attachment issues. As a result, they might behave and act in ways that are challenging and difficult for them and you to cope with. This can progress and affect the whole family.
Challenging behaviour can be confusing and difficult to manage – especially if you don’t have access to support. It may also come as a surprise if you have already raised siblings without these issues. You might question why your child is “acting out” or “misbehaving” or why your other child reacts differently. It’s important to note that these behavioural issues often stem from the environment that your child is surrounded by and by talking to your child about this you can tackle the root cause of the problem.
How you look after yourself and the support group around you all have an impact on how your child behaves. Being mindful of this and keeping good practice is also likely to help you to stay calm when they’re angry or facing challenging behaviour. Research shows that how you react to difficult behaviour may be more important for your child’s development than the behaviour itself. So you need to think about your reactions and emotions since they have a big impact on the situation and can help massively when combatting these family monsters.
Common ways children may behave
Children can show challenging behaviour in a number of ways from bedwetting and becoming withdrawn to acting aggressively. The cause of this behaviour is often due to attachment issues and a lack of self-esteem. This can have a negative impact on the parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling their emotions and moods as well as their ability to plan and reason.
Children and young people may naturally become rebellious, act out or put themselves in situations that could make them more vulnerable to harm, due to the different stage of their lives. This can be a range of things from not telling you where they’re going or taking a detour to a friend’s house on the way home from school, to meeting up with strangers or substance use (drugs or alcohol). Other common behaviours may include becoming more sexually active, being exploited or self-harming.
Children or young people who have experienced trauma or challenging experiences may be more susceptible to such behaviours so if you are aware of this it is important to be extra vigilant. Although, teenagers and young people especially don’t like being watched or put under scrutiny – who does? So, it is critical to not be too invasive as you could end up accidentally escalating the already sensitive situation.
Each child is different and for some, it will be a phase that they grow out of over time but, for others professional help may be needed. Either way, the behaviour of a child or anyone in the family unit (even challenging behaviour from parents) can be demanding on everyone. The person who is acting in a challenging way may not realise the impact they are having so it’s important to open up and talk about your family monsters – for some it may be a case of making them aware of the impact they are having. It could be that having a civil and understanding conversation and sharing your family monsters will make them aware so they can change their behaviour.
Managing your child’s behaviour
It can feel natural for parents to respond to challenging behaviour by becoming upset, authoritarian or aggressive. However, this confirms to the child that they should not let down their defences and may make them feel they need to stay in control themselves. With this in mind, it’s useful to keep a more positive and understanding position. Often just remaining calm when this behaviour occurs and explaining your good intentions to them can go a lot further than a lecture or shouting at them would.
Other specialist parenting approaches, such as therapeutic parenting, can help children move towards feeling more secure and resilient. It can also be useful for parents who are in need of support, with children that are facing attachment or challenging behaviour issues, to get specialist training or read around therapeutic parenting techniques.
When children are upset or acting aggressively your response should validate their emotions but not their behaviour. You can let them know it is okay to feel angry but it’s not acceptable to act out or punch or hurt someone because they are feeling angry. Sitting down and talking through the situation once everyone has calmed down will help them to recognise and be in touch with their emotions and is known as emotion coaching. This parenting technique helps children manage their feelings when they are upset and misbehaving -it winds down the situation and builds positive learning.
At first, you may find this awkward or difficult to do, start or continue and that’s understandable – it’s natural for people to feel this way. Children may also pick up on these changes especially if it feels strange, forced or artificial. You may not be used to talking about your own feelings, which will naturally stop children from talking about theirs. So it’s important to ease into the technique by talking about your own feelings. In time you’ll both talk about your feelings naturally and begin to face your family monsters together.
If challenging behaviour continues or doesn’t seem manageable, it is worth speaking to your GP about a referral to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or contact us and find out what services we have to support you.
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