Challenging Behaviour in Children

Challenging behaviour is described as ‘problem behaviour’, ‘difficult behaviour’ or ‘socially unacceptable behaviour’.

It can include many different things, depending on the age of the child.

  • They have trouble following instructions and commands
  • They tend to be reckless
  • They find it hard to notice, make sense of or communicate feelings and needs
  • They find it hard to consider the need of others
  • They have trouble managing their feelings of frustration
  • They find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time and/or attention span is limited.
  • They have meltdowns and temper tantrums and get upset, angry and distressed easily
  • They find it difficult to make friends at school.
  • They find it hard to motivate themselves to do things they aren’t interested in
  • They like routine and cannot deal with changes in routine

Some of the main reasons why children develop behaviour problems are

  1. The child wants more control over his/her surroundings. This gives them a feeling of being in control. Many kids feel they have little control and will therefore act out so that they can get what they want. Children are very often being told what to do by others, be it at home or at school they are following directions/instructions of their parents or teachers. Some of the kids do whatever they can to feel in control. Even if it means throwing temper tantrums, having meltdowns, breaking rules, refusing to follow your directions or even arguing with you.
  2. A child who has low self-esteem, and needs to gain acceptance may do unacceptable things to get attention. The child is trying to feel good about themselves and validate their worth. These kids may do things to make themselves feel worthy like picking on their little brother, doing something dangerous just to feel cool and keep saying something inappropriate no matter how many times you ask them to stop.
  3. A child may not be able to express themselves. Sometimes children cannot find the right words due to their limited vocabulary.
  4. The child has a need to move, burn energy, or stimulate themselves in some way shape or form. They find it very had to sit and relax or do something that requires a

    great deal of concentration. An example would be a child who is constantly running around the house and jumping on furniture no matter how many times you ask him/her to stop.

  5. If a child is being given responsibilities beyond his/her age or more than they can handle. For example, if you are asking your 3 year old to tidy his/her room and they refuse to do it. Or you take your 4 year old to the supermarket and expect them to stand in a queue quietly for any length of time or even asking a 7/8 year old to focus on homework for long stretches of time.


Some #tips on how you can help with your child’s Challenging behaviour.

  • Give your child as much control over his/her srundings as possible. As long as, they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, not being disrespectful or being inconsiderate to others, you should as much as possible allow them to be creative.
  • When your child can’t have something, explain the reason why, empathize with his feelings, and offer an alternative.
  • It might be a good idea to set up expectations ahead of time, so the child knows what is expected of him/her i.e., complete homework, set table, take out garbage.
  • A chart that allows your child to earn privileges for good/compliant behaviour is a good idea. This is better than threatening to take privileges away. This puts the ball in their court, giving them the responsibility to work for the things they enjoy and gives them more control over their surroundings.
  • Don’t give any attention to tantrums, but do ensure your child’s safety during the tantrum.
  • Remove attention from the negative behaviours and focus on the positive ones. If your child is getting the attention of his siblings for bad behaviour, do the best you can to encourage them  not to pay attention to that negative behaviour.
  • It is very important for you to set rules regarding behavioural expectations and give your child positive feedback for following those rules.
  • Remind children who are bullying/teasing that they must treat everyone with respect and direct them to another room if they continue being mean to others.
  • Give your child plenty of outlets to burn energy. By providing your child with meaningful activities (utilizing their strengths) so they are not looking for something to do you will give them something to focus on which is positive. A child engrossed in a hands-on activity, is much more likely to be focused and calm than a child who is forced to sit in their seat and listen to an hour lecture.
  • Get to know what your child is capable of before putting demands on him or her that he/she may find challenging. A good example of this is, have your child clean up one toy before taking out another to play with so they don’t get overwhelmed with cleaning up a lot at once.
  • Do not tolerate your child’s aggressive behaviour. Remind the child to keep his/her hands to himself/herself and that hitting is unacceptable. Try to identify with what he might be going through or encourage him to express how he/she feels. It is sometimes appropriate to ask them to move to a safe space to cool down where he/she can’t hurt anyone. Only allow him/her to join others when he regains control.
  • Work with all children to develop positive ways to express/cope with their frustration or anger (e.g. saying how they feel, walking away, exercising, doing something they enjoy).


Namita Bhatia
NLP4kids Practitioner at Kids Mindset Therapy Ltd


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