Sometimes children's behaviour can really challenge us; it is not easy. Remember to take a deep breath and try to ignore unwanted behaviour where is it safe to do so. It can help to say to yourself ‘I am the grown up, you are a child.’
Distract your child into another activity and praise good behaviour. Whatever the behaviour, all children need a calm and kind response and some help to unpick the cause.
There may be times when the stress gets to you – this is not surprising. If you are with others and feel your own frustrations building up ask someone to take over.
If you are on your own make sure your child is safe, then give yourself a few moments of head space to breathe slowly and allow yourself to feel calmer again.
First Steps To Take
Tantrums or meltdowns are part of growing up. We expect them in the toddler days - small children let us know loudly about their frustrations and attempts to be independent.
Often tantrums happen less as children develop the language to explain their feelings and find other ways to manage their emotions. It is common for children and young people to still have ‘outbursts’ from time to time though.
This can be affected by developmental stages and temperament, as well as a reaction to other difficult / stressful things happening in their life. It can also be down to things like tiredness or hunger. For some children with additional needs this can be an ongoing struggle for them and their families.
Tantrums & Outbursts In Teenagers
You may well see the return of tantrums / meltdowns in the teenage years too. Young people are trying to cope with;
Responding To Tantrums
Regardless of age, your child will need a very similar response from the people who care about them.
As children get older and have more language, take time to talk about it when they have calmed down. Help them make sense of their feelings and how they could cope or react differently next time.
Tantrums and meltdowns are hard on everyone - keeping calm and being kind, but firm is a good approach.
Your Own Feelings
When your child is having a meltdown it can feel embarrassing – especially if you are out and about. It can feel like everyone is watching. Remember every parent is likely to have experienced this, and are usually sympathising with you.
Try and keep calm, find a quieter spot until it has passed. If it is lasting a long time, and you are struggling you might decide to head home.
Some children struggle to understand the ‘rules’ of playing and socialising with others. It can be hard to see them making mistakes and being misunderstood. Give your child lots of ‘practice’ to help them learn how to join in.
When with other children and young people keep watch for signs that your child is feeling overwhelmed. Giving your child the chance to take a few minutes break to calm down, might enable them to avoid becoming distressed or behaviour to escalate.
Sharing is hard. It is normal for children not to want to do it. They don’t really begin to understand how to share until they are around three years old.
Remember - your child doesn’t have to share their most precious things. Put them away when other children are around. If your child is upset that another child has something special of theirs say to the visitor - ‘That is a very special teddy / blanket / car can I look after it so it doesn’t get lost? - Tim would love to show you his train instead’.
If your child still does not like to share things as they get older;
My Child Is Still Struggling?
Try not to worry most children will learn to share in time. It does not mean your child is not kind or is selfish. If your child often seems to struggle with playing and friendships;
Biting, Hitting & Kicking
Lots of children go through spells of hitting out, biting or kicking. For many this is a developmental phase that passes. For some children this continues to be a problem. It is not easy for parents. It can be upsetting and you might worry about how to make it stop.
Biting, kicking or hitting, like all behaviour, is the way your child is showing their feelings. Working out what the triggers are for your child will help you prevent the behaviour.
It might be;
A behaviour diary - where you think what happened before, during and after the action will help you work out what triggers this for your child. Remember to think what happened on the good days - when you didn’t see the unwanted behaviour too.
If your child hurts you or someone else you need to respond straight away. It might not be easy but staying calm is really important. Children are fascinated by the reactions they get and can repeat the unwanted behaviour to see how you will respond.
It can be a message you need to repeat a lot of times before you see any change in the behaviour.
Try not to give yourself a hard time your child is not doing this to be mean, or to cause pain. They are showing that they are overwhelmed and haven’t learnt how to cope with these feelings just yet.
Punishments rarely work because many children will struggle to make the link between their action and the consequences. In the past parents were sometimes told to bite, kick or hit their child back to ‘show them’ how it feels. This doesn't work as it gives a mixed message about the behaviour. It confuses and harms children when the people they love, trust and rely on do something to hurt them.
My Child Is Still Struggling?
If your child / young person continues to hurt others and lash out, this may be for other reasons and they may need extra help. It is not ok for you, or others you live with, to worry about being hurt by your child.
Talk to school or early years setting, or call Just One Number to speak to a health professional. There is help available for you and your child.
Having a few rules and boundaries that you feel strongly about and the family can stick to, is better than lots of rules that are not listened to.
Think about the language you use. Children and young people can struggle with ‘no’ but understand better when you tell them the behaviour you want to see;
As your child gets older you might discuss rules together and ask them for their ideas. If they feel involved and listened to it will be easier for them to stick to.
Choose family rules, just three or four and write them up somewhere you can all see them. Remember rules can be updated as things change for your family.
Stick to the boundaries you set. If you react one way one day and differently another day your child will get confused.
It is important that everyone in your family deals with your child's behaviour in the same way.
Saying you will ‘ground them for a month’ or ‘you can’t see Granny on Tuesday’ is pointless if you know that you can’t stick to it.
Consequences should never include physical punishments like smacking. It is a sign you have lost control. This is frightening for your child and for you. Frightened children do not learn a lesson and their trust in you will be damaged.
If you feel like you may hurt your child walk away until you feel calmer.
Once a consequence is in place don’t let your child negotiate out of it unless there is a very good reason.
It is better to say ‘You can’t go out with Jane on Saturday’ or ‘You can’t watch you favourite TV show this week’ and be able to follow through on it.
Once you have pointed out the unwanted behaviour, talked it through, set a consequence and followed through – let it go.
Move on and be warm and loving towards your child. They need to know that everyone makes mistakes and your love and care for them is not affected.
Sometimes we need to remember that our children are watching and learning from us. If we manage our own feelings and frustrations calmly and keep to the rules ourselves our children will be more likely to do the same.
Some children and young people find any rules / boundaries or requests really difficult to follow. This can be exhausting and impact on your relationship with your child.
If you are finding your child struggles to cooperate with rules and your are finding their behaviour hard to manage speak to nursery / school or call us at Just One Number to talk to a health professional.
Pick Your Battles
It is normal for children to test limits and boundaries. It is part of the slow move towards independence. It can start when they are very small and continues right through to adolescence. Some children will kick back against rules more than others, some find it extremely difficult to do as they are asked or keep to boundaries. It can be very hard to manage.
During some developmental stages it feels like you could probably spend all your time trying to keep on top of all your child's negative behaviours. This is stressful for you and your child. Ask yourself;
Take a moment to decide if this is a battle you need to have. This can make a big difference to how effective you will be and you can save your energy for the rules and boundaries you know are most important.
Sometimes we are annoyed by something our child is doing because we are tired, stressed or it reminds us of something / someone we find difficult. Taking a deep breath and realising this is the case can make it easier to cope.
Try and distract your child, or even choose to join in with the silly / noisy / messy behaviour!
If there are regular challenges, think how you could manage them differently. If you are worried about things getting broken or damaged you might decide to move them out of the way rather than spend all of your time asking your little one not to touch it.
If your teenager likes loud music you might agree a time when this is ok and the rest of the time they must use headphones.
Find out more about understanding your child's behaviour
Remember all children are different but if you are worried speak to your child's preschool setting or school, they will be happy to talk to you about how best to support your child.
You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590 to talk to a health professional for advice and support. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.
Alternatively you can go to see your GP to discuss concerns.
If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.
To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.