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Behaviour management for your child

1-8 years

Children’s behaviour – it can delight, stun, confuse, frustrate or even anger you. When your child behaves in challenging ways, it’s good to have a range of behaviour management options.

About behaviour management

Behaviour management is about guiding your child’s behaviour so that she learns the appropriate way to behave.

A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide your child’s behaviour. This means giving your child attention when he behaves well, rather than just punishing him when he does something you don’t like.

But it’s normal for children to behave in challenging ways at different stages and in particular situations. So trying to understand your child’s behaviour is an important step in managing it. This way you can choose a reliable behaviour management option that’s well matched to the causes of your child’s behaviour.

And if you use behaviour management strategies at the same time as you nurture strong family relationships, you’re well on your way to helping your child learn about appropriate behaviour.

Understanding: the first step to child behaviour management

Dealing with children’s behaviour is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting.

Understanding the causes of your child’s behaviour is the first step in meeting this challenge. So before you choose behaviour management options, it’s a good idea to check a few things.

First, if your child’s behaviour changes suddenly, check whether your child is healthy and getting enough sleep. Sometimes challenging behaviour is the first sign that children aren’t well. If you’re not sure, take your child to the doctor or child and family health nurse for a check-up.

Next think about your child’s development. It’s good to keep in mind that different kinds of challenging behaviour are normal at different stages of development. For example, tantrums are very common in toddlers and preschoolers, because at this age children have big feelings and not enough words to express them.

Third, consider whether there have been any changes in your family life that might affect your child’s behaviour. For example, it’s normal to see challenging behaviour after the birth of a new baby, starting school or a death in the family.

Understanding the developmental reasons and emotions behind your child’s behaviour doesn’t mean you can ignore challenging behaviour, but it does help you work out how to respond. Also, knowing what’s typical at different stages and in different circumstances helps you know whether you need extra help with your child’s behaviour.

Choosing behaviour management tools that are right for you

No single behaviour management strategy will fix everything. Some strategies might work better than others for your family and situation. You’ll probably have to use a few strategies in combination.

If you’re finding the strategies hard to use, or they’re not working for you, it’s a good idea to seek support from your doctor, child and family health nurse or a parenting hotline.

If you’re managing challenging behaviour in children with autism spectrum disorder, you might need extra support.

Tried and tested behaviour management strategies

When you’re choosing behaviour management strategies to guide your child’s behaviour, you want options that will work.

All the behaviour management options in our Behaviour Toolkits are based on reliable research evidence. And they’ve been tried and tested many times in many practical family situations.

You might still have to try a few different options to work out what best suits your child’s age and stage and your family circumstances.

More than behaviour management

Behaviour management strategies work best when you’re giving time and effort to building a positive atmosphere at home and strengthening your family relationships with affection and communication.

Good family relationships help your child feel secure and loved. This is what children need to learn and grow.

Looking after yourself

Managing children’s challenging behaviour isn’t always easy.

When you look after yourself with healthy food, rest and exercise, you’ll feel better and find it easier to stay calm and respond to your child’s behaviour.

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Last updated or reviewed
06-10-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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