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All children show us how they are feeling by how they behave. For children who might have communication and understanding challenges this is often even more the case.

All behaviour is communication but it may be linked to a child’s health or developmental stage, it may reflect a child’s need for routines or activity or it might have something to do with how they deal with information from their senses. Sometimes people think that a child’s behaviour is because they have a condition or diagnosis but overlook some of the usual reasons for behaviour such a tiredness, hunger or pain.

There is so much advice on managing children’s behaviour it can be confusing; and remember each child is an individual and different things will work for each child.

If you have spent a long time trying to help your child it can be exhausting and make family life hard for everyone. Please remember that there are are services to support you and that yours is not the only family who might struggle at times.

  • Knowing more about how children develop emotionally, and how this affects their behaviour can make it easier to understand what a child’s actions tell you about how they feel.

    All behaviour has a purpose. It is a way of communicating needs and feelings, although it is not always easy to work out what that purpose is;

    • Watch out for patterns in the behaviour (keep a ‘behaviour diary’) – what do you notice makes things worse or better?
    • Try and predict situations and experiences that are triggers for your child. Avoid or distract if you can.



  • When feelings affect behaviour all children will benefit from a calm and kind response;

    • Try and help them name the feelings that come with the behaviour; ‘I can see you are feeling angry / scared/ frustrated.’
    • Keep your own voice low and calm. Try and keep your breathing slow and steady.
    • Be patient and realistic – if your child is not managing a situation it is OK for you all to leave. You and your child have done well to give it a go. 
    • Choose a few rules that are important to keep your child and others safe. Having lots of rules can mean more conflict and be confusing for your child.
    • Try and keep to routines and family rules – most children and especially those with behavioural difficulties feel more secure when every day has an expected pattern.

    Your child may 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.

    • Try and give your child the opportunity to watch other children and spend time with them. You may have to start very slowly – like watching children from a distance – you could walk by the park to begin with. Talk about what the children are doing.
    • Make your own story books using photos of familiar people and places. Use feelings words when you talk about them; ‘You are excited when you see Grandad’ or ‘You sometimes get cross when you have to share with your cousin.’ 
    • When with other children and young people keep watch for signs that your child is feeling overwhelmed and might start to act out. Giving your child the chance to take a few minutes break to calm down you might be able to avoid your child becoming distressed.

    There may be times when the stress gets to you – this is not surprising. If you feel your own frustration building 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 allow yourself to feel calmer again.

  • Dealing with difficult behaviour can affect your confidence as a parent. Understanding more about the roots of behaviour and how you can support your child can help. All professionals working with children in Norfolk are offered this training too.

    As well as understanding development the Solihull course talks about, play, styles of parenting, sleep, temper tantrums and communication. Learning is split into 4 sections:

    • Understanding your child
    • Understanding your baby
    • Understanding pregnancy, labour, birth and your baby
    • Teenage brain

    *Click here* to sign up and complete the course for free.

  • Families who have been referred to a specialist team for assessment of their child’s additional needs may be signposted to the Positive Behaviour Course which is run by Family Action in Norfolk.

    In response to the COVID-19 outbreak this programme has been amended and offered online *here*. Although intended for families awaiting assessment and possibly diagnosis the strategies can be used with any child with additional needs.

  • It can be exhausting supporting a child with behaviour difficulties.

    • Some days you will have more energy than others.
    • Take any moments you can to rest or relax – it might be 5 minutes looking at a magazine or try some relaxation exercises. There are some NHS audio guides *here*.
    • Support groups where you can talk with parents facing similar challenges can be helpful. There is advice on finding a suitable group *here*.

    Ask friends and family for help if you can. Sometimes others do not feel able to help with your child because of their extra needs, this can be hard. Ask them for help with other things like cooking, laundry and shopping. This can at least take some of the pressure off you to manage everything.


Who Can Help?

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. If you are still worried, contact Just One Number to talk to a health professional for advice and support.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.

Alternatively you can go to see your GP to discuss concerns.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.


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