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Thinking Further about Tricky Behaviours


All parents and carers know the difficulty in managing undesirable behaviours in children. Such behaviours are wide ranging but examples may include hitting a sibling or crying when told 'no.'

Sometimes the initial thoughts and quick responses from adults aren't always the most helpful Here we briefly discuss how to stop and think about the function of the behaviour, what you want to achieve, and how to best go about it.


Reflect on a recent behaviour which you had to respond to. Think about the following:

  1. Why did my child do this? In the heat of the moment, you may quickly think 'because he is trying to push my buttons!' But try being more curious and think about the function of the behaviour. This may be that he wants a turn with the toy but doesn't know how to ask so snatched it, that he finds it difficult to wait (as appropriate for his age) so whined, or that he is nervous not being able to see you so has been yelling "muuuum" loudly. These behaviours can all be triggering to parents and carers but have a function for the child trying to get what they want or need - they may however be able to learn better ways to achieve this, which leads us to:

  2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? The lesson that such behaviour leads to punishment (such as timeout) may be effective in stopping the behaviour in the moment but falls short of teaching the child more general lessons that can also be applied to other situations. The focus of such lesson can be on the better ways that he can, for example, have a turn with the toy, get your attention, or feel secure.

  3. How can I best teach this lesson? Once you decide the more appropriate action (step 2), find a good time to sit and explain this to your child. Ensure that you are both calm and he is able to engage with you including not being distracted. Try to not have too much time pass between the behaviour and your discussion with him, as he may have forgotten the situation. Keep such lessons age appropriate; younger children will benefit from use of basic and minimal words, visuals, play-based examples, and repetition of these. Consistency is always helpful when teaching new behaviours, so try to have all parents and carers on board and using a similar approach. Start by acknowledging his feelings e.g. "I could see that you were really angry because you wanted..." This demonstrates to him that you understand him, that you want to help him, and will also help to get him engaged in the discussion.

Speaking with your child's psychologist can help you to apply such concepts within your family, tailor approaches to you and your child, and problem-solve where necessary.




Adapted from the work of Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, as presented in 'No-Drama Discipline' (2015)