Many times parents are not sure how to respond to their child’s challenging or unpredictable behaviors. Often, just when you feel that you’ve finally figured everything out and settled into a routine, something changes and it gets challenging again.
These changes may just be a normal part of a child’s growth and development, but they can still feel frustrating and overwhelming. For example, you might be struggling with your child’s crying or temper tantrums, communication, discipline, eating, toileting, sleeping, or getting along with others. Behaviors can also be influenced by an environment that is stressful or unhealthy, a major change or disruption in the family, or stresses experienced by the child, parents, or caregivers. These issues may not be as easy to address, and can feel overwhelming for both children and parents.
All of a child’s behaviors have meaning and communicate messages. Adults recognize some of these communications right away—like a toothless grin. Other behaviors may be confusing, and you can only take a guess at what they might mean. A child’s behavior might do any of the following:
Show how they feel about themselves
Communicate their needs and feelings
Establish important connections with the people around them
- Be part of exploring the world and how the world responds to them
Children, especially young children, are learning new ways to communicate all the time. At a young age, children don’t always have the skills to tell us what they want, need, or feel. When this happens, children are likely to behave in ways that are confusing or challenging to their parents and caregivers. It is up to us to try to understand children’s behaviors and help them learn to express their feelings in appropriate ways.
Your child care provider can be a good partner and source of support when you are finding your child’s behavior challenging. A trusted provider can work with you to handle challenging behaviors in constructive ways. You are more likely to be successful if you and your provider are handling things the same way.
Talk with your provider about changes in your child and any concerns. Offer your own opinions and ask questions, and find out what your provider is seeing when you’re not there. When you’re ready, you can work together to create a plan to address the behavior.
The following list has some valuable tools that may give you new ideas for building a positive relationship with your child and responding to challenging behaviors. Though information can be a useful guide, remember that your child's path is unique and your parenting journey will be unique as well.
This page may help you handle common parenting challenges. It has fun videos and “how-tos” for specific parenting skills.
Family Resources from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning
This website provides resources to help you support your child’s social and emotional development, and prepare for kindergarten. It has resources for children from birth to age 5. It provides information on teaching your child to express emotions, responding to biting, teaching your child to cooperate, and much more.
Head Start Center for Inclusion
This resource offers handouts that provide useful tips for families to promote positive behavior during common family activities and routines that can sometimes be challenging.
PBS for Parents: Understanding Emotions and Self Awareness
This website provides families with tips to help children name their feelings, understand them, and develop strategies for expressing them in healthy ways.
National Center for Effective Mental Health Consultation
This website provides families with practical guidance on ways to promote young children’s healthy social and emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Encouraging Positive Behavior and Reducing Challenging Behavior
This website provides families with helpful resources, including how to help your child develop self-regulation skills, how to address biting, and how to provide positive guidance and encourage compassion.
Zero to Three: Challenging Behaviors
This website provides several resources to help families address challenging behavior, including how to deal with tantrums, defiance, biting, and aggression.