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Understanding Your Child's Behaviour

Children and young people’s brains continue to develop and grow until they are around 20 years old.

This development can take longer for some and may affect their ability to control emotions, manage behaviour and learn positive ways to communicate.

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.
  • Put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to understand why your child may be acting in the way they are. Are they tired? Overwhelmed? Hungry? Bored?
  • Remember you know your child best – you probably know the challenges, worries and experiences that cause them to behaviour in certain ways better than anyone.

It is easy to be unrealistic in the behaviour we expect from our children. Think back to when you were that age, talk to family and friends – it can be reassuring to find that the behaviour that is worrying you is common at their age.

  • Praise is one of the most important tools in a parenting toolbox. It is one of the best ways to help your child understand how you want them to behave. It can be easy to take the times when you child is behaving well and managing their feelings for granted.

    Always try and point out when you see the behaviour you want in your child;

    • ‘You are playing so nicely with your sister.’
    • ‘Thanks for putting your bowl in the dishwasher.'
    • ‘You did really well to keep calm then.’

    Your positive attention can be the best prize for your child. If you only point out the behaviour you don’t want your child may use this as a sure way of getting a reaction instead.

    Try and find time to ‘just be’ with your child – story time, games, walks or watching TV together - really concentrate on enjoying each other’s company. It doesn’t have to be for long but will make your child feel valued and know they are important to you.

  • There is so much advice on managing children’s behaviour it can be confusing. Friends, family and even strangers may make comments or give advice on the way your child behaves.

    Times have changed and what we understand about children; their needs and how they develop has grown too.

    • Remember every child is an individual and different things will work for each child.
    • You know your child best. You can decide on the advice that you think might help your child and politely ignore things that you do not find helpful.
    • 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 services to support you. Yours is not the only family who might struggle at times and you don’t have to cope alone. You can call Just One Number to speak to a health professional or speak to your child's school or early years setting.

  • 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 helping you understand 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.

  • Your child may find it harder to show how they feel, understand how others feel and / or manage their feelings. This may be something that will improve over time but some children and young people will continue to find this a struggle.

    This can be hard for parents who worry how their child will cope as they grow. It can be very frustrating and tiring and can make family life or everyday activities hard for you all.

    At home

    Knowing your home is as safe as possible can take some of the stress out of caring for a child or young person with additional needs that affect their behaviour.

    Put yourself in their shoes and go round your house checking for things that they might be attracted to and that could cause them harm. Think what you can do to keep risks lower. For example;

    • Fitting window opening restrictors if there is a risk of your child climbing out.
    • Checking for sharp corners or objects that can be thrown and could hurt someone.
    • Using ‘locking sockets’ if your child might play with electric appliances and keeping dangerous substances locked away.

    Having one room where you know your older child will be safer, can give you some peace of mind.

    If it continues to be hard to make your home safe because of the behaviour there may be specialist equipment available. Ask school or call Just One Number for advice.


    Children and young people benefit from routines and boundaries. Knowing what will happen when and what to expect, can help reduce stress and anxiety for everyone. Read how you might do this *here*.

    Some children and young people struggle with boundaries and can lash out at the people who love and care for them.  

    Families can feel worried to talk about this and feel embarrassed to ask for help. It is a really hard situation to find yourselves in and services are there to help and support you. If your family is experiencing this speak to nursery / school and / or other professionals involved in your child’s care. You can also call Just One Number to speak to a health professional.

    Out and about

    It can take a lot of practice for some children to understand the ‘rules’ of how to behave. It can mean changing your expectations – getting to know what your child can cope with and what might trigger difficult behaviour.

    Be realistic about what your child can manage right now. Start small. Try some low key positive trips out;

    • Visit a friend who you know doesn’t make you feel judged
    • Try the park at a quiet time
    • Go to the library (you don’t have to be quiet in libraries these days!).

    Having a good experience can give you both more confidence to give more new things a try. Being calm and keeping your boundaries the same will help your child begin to understand what is expected of them.

    Sometimes your child may not be able to cope with a situation at a particular time;

    • Try and find a quiet space to see if a short break will help
    • If it is not working it is ok to decide to leave the situation. Try again another day.

    Parents tell us that sometimes they feel judged by other people when difficult behaviours happen out and about;

    • You and your child have just as much right to be out and about spending time together as others
    • It is good for your child’s development to spend time around others
    • Remember you know the challenges and difficulties they face and the effort and strength it takes for you and your child to be there.

    Be proud that you keep trying, don’t let other people’s lack of understanding get in your way. There are some ideas on how to respond to any hurtful comments *here*.

  • It can be exhausting supporting a child when their behaviour is challenging you. Some days you will have more energy to cope 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 might not feel able to help with your child because of their behaviour, 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.

    Never smack your child. This does not work - it can frighten your child and will teach them that smacking is OK. They may then hit other children or adults.

    *Click here* to access free online learning to help understand your child's behaviour.

  • Sometimes children's behaviour can really challenge us; it is not always easy to know what to do and how to help.

    Click the button below for tips and advice about how to manage behaviours like hitting, kicking, biting, sharing and friendship struggles.

    Behaviour Troubleshooting


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.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on07520 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.


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