How to Handle Difficult Children

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Oh No, Not Again!
Your 2 year old hurls himself to the floor in the checkout line at the grocery store when you deny his demand for candy. Your 5 year old whines incessantly, begging to stay up when you are entertaining friends at your home. Your pre-teen defiantly challenges your authority when you tell her to get off of the phone at bedtime. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, you may need some tips for handling the difficult child.

Understanding Behavior
Most behaviors are learned, therefore they can be changed. The response a child receives when he displays a behavior will determine whether the behavior increases, decreases, or stays the same. It?s important to know to respond to your child?s behavior to achieve the desired result.

It?s As Easy as ABC
If you understand some simple behavior modification concepts, and respond to your child?s behavior using those concepts, you will see immediate results. First, you must determine what triggered the behavior. In most cases, the child is told no, or is asked to do something he doesn?t want to do. In the case of the chaos in the candy aisle at the grocery store, the toddler?s tantrum usually escalates quickly.

Are You Reinforcing Inappropriate Behavior?
Shoppers stare at you, and your child wails louder. You?re tempted to snatch the candy off the shelf, and hand it to the tantrum thrower. The moment you do, you have reinforced the behavior. You?ve let the child know if he screams, cries and embarrasses you, he will get exactly what he wants. If you allow the whining 5 year old to stay up, in an attempt to stop her whining, you have done just the opposite. The next time she wants something, she will whine and cry. She got the desired result the last time she did it! If you respond to the pre-teen by giving her 10 more minutes of phone time, she will defy your authority again.

Help Your Child Change His Behavior
Encourage appropriate behavior by establishing a positive consequence for proper behavior. Tell your toddler you will stop at the park if he behaves in the grocery store. Give your 5 year old positive praise when she uses a normal tone of voice instead of whining. Reward her with an extra story at bedtime. Go over the rules regarding telephone use with your pre-teen. Make sure she understands that owning a phone is a privilege, and as long as she abides by the rules, she will be permitted to have one.
Set the stage for positive behavior and praise your child when he acts appropriately. Your child wants to please you, so set him up for success!

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Handle Difficult Children," in, September 9, 2013, (accessed September 29, 2022).