How should I respond to challenging behaviour?
Just as praise encourages your toddler to repeat good behaviours, not rewarding misbehaviour makes it less appealing.
Keep calm and think about the feelings behind the behaviour. Is your child hungry, tired, nervous or just in a bad mood?
The Attention Rule
Children love attention and work hard to get it – especially from their parents! Attention can be positive (praise or play) or negative (criticism, mocking or shouting). For children, any kind of attention is better than nothing: acting out and being scolded may be their only tool if they don’t get enough of the positive stuff. Ultimately, the behaviours you reward or give attention to are what you’ll get more of.
Putting it into practice
- Don’t give attention to whining, interrupting, back chat or sulking. Instead say ‘I will not tolerate this behaviour’, and then don’t respond until your child is behaving appropriately.
- Remember to ignore the behaviour, not your child: turn your body away or carry on with other tasks, rather than leaving the room – let them know you’re still available or close at hand.
- Give clear consequences for negative behaviour. “If you continue to put sand on the floor, you will have to come out of the sand pit.” Make sure consequences are age appropriate and are something you can follow through. If you’re at the supermarket and threaten to take them home, you risk leaving your shopping unfinished!
Want more advice or support?
You can talk via online chat to our family support workers and get advice specific to your situation and your family.
We’re providing our advice for free to ensure it benefits as many parents as possible. If our advice has helped you today you can help us support children across the UK by making a donation.