Managing children's behaviour

Things to try

These are some things which parents tell us have really helped them. When you are feeling most challenged as a parent it can be helpful to think about them.

Your family is unique. Something that works for one family won’t necessarily work for another. So, it’s important to work out what’s best for your family.

Parentline can give you encouragement and support if you need it.

Sounds easy doesn’t it? When things get so tough that you could explode, you need all your strength just to take that breath. It is so important to take that moment, to physically or mentally remove yourself from the situation.

Take a few deep breaths and think about what you are going to do and say before doing anything. You will feel more in control and be in a better position to deal with whatever is happening. It is not easy. It can take every bit of willpower you have to carry it through. Like everything else, it takes practice. It might not be possible every time, but keep trying and it will get easier.

Responding when emotions are high doesn’t help anyone. If things are heated, agree with your child that you’ll both talk about it later, now just isn’t the right time.

It can help to agree with your child how you will communicate how you are feeling to each other. For example, you could use a traffic light system. If you or your child are feeling amber you can take time out to ‘reset’ to green before you talk

Be calm, listen and allow your child to say how they feel too, no matter their age. You don’t have to agree and it doesn’t mean they get the final word!

When you really listen your child feels respected and valued. They are more likely to treat you, and others, the same way.

You could think about communication in the family as a dance between partners. Sometimes everything clicks, it’s fun, and there’s no stress. At other times we miss our footing, get out of step, and it can spin out of control. Like dancing, practicing the moves always helps!

As parents, nearly all of us, have shouted at our children at some point, it’s hard not to. If we’re honest, it doesn’t feel great to shout or be shouted at – and it doesn’t improve relationships in the long run.

When a child sees the adults they love and trust most lose their temper it doesn’t help them learn to cope with their own emotions. For really young children, shouting can be scary. It’s loud and it signals that the adult they love is not totally in control.

Over time, children will learn to cope with being shouted at by ‘shutting down.’  They don’t really hear the shouting or listen any more.

Walking away, taking a breath and getting your emotions under control will help you respond calmly when your buttons are pushed. It takes practice and can be a real effort. Parents tell us this really helps.

You won’t always get this right. We’re only human and we all lose our temper sometimes. If this happens, try saying ‘sorry.’ It shows your child a good example of what they should do when they lose their temper too.

Let your child know what is acceptable and what isn’t and stick to it. As much as children argue and fight against limits they need consistent boundaries to feel safe and secure.

Set limits that are right for your child’s age. If this feels hard, ask yourself calmly: “Am I being realistic or, am I expecting too much?”

By setting clear limits, you can act as a reliable lighthouse to guide your child and keep them safe.