Challenging Behaviours in Young Children

When children bite, hit, or start to kick and scream in the grocery store, parents can find it very unsettling. A deep breath may be the first step. Keep reminding yourself that children are learning how to behave in acceptable ways. Their challenging behaviours are often a sign of their developmental level rather than spite.

The best way to deal with challenging behaviours is to prevent them, but there will be times when your child behaves in ways that will challenge your patience.

How you discipline and teach your child will depend on your child’s age, stage of development, temperament, and many other factors. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child’s behaviour may be appropriate for their age and level of development.

Here are some tips for managing challenging behaviours:

  • Redirect to another activity
    • Redirection—switching from one activity to another—works well with toddlers and some older children.
    • When you redirect your child, be sure to explain with words what you don’t want them to do.
  • Use logical consequences
    • Apply clear consequences for your child’s actions that relate to the behaviour. For example, if your preschooler intentionally throws food on the floor, make sure they help you clean up the mess. When the mess is cleaned up, the consequence is over. If your child is old enough, you may want to discuss other ways to express what they are feeling.
    • You can take away a privilege when there isn’t a clear consequence. For young children, this must happen right away. For example, a four-year-old child is excited to go swimming, but the child in front of them is not moving fast enough, so they push that child into the pool. The parent takes the child away from the pool, explains that they must wait their turn and that pushing people is not acceptable and is hurtful. The next day, they go back to the pool, and the parent reminds them of the expectations.
  • Encourage problem-solving
    • Solving problems helps your child learn about the consequences of their actions. Allow your child to help find a solution to misbehaviour, and they will be more likely to make it happen.

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Last updated: 2022-07-07