Transaction ID:

Managing Challenging Behaviours in Children – Part 1

Posted on August 19, 2019 by Ann

Share with:

Written by Jacelyn Loh (Early Intervention Psychologist, SPD)

Often, children exhibit challenging behaviours when:

  1. they do not get what they want,
  2. there is a sense of lack of control on their part (e.g., unexpected/inexplicable changes in routine, not getting to choose what they want to wear or eat), or
  3. their needs are not met (for e.g., attention, security, rest, food, well-being).

Here are some strategies that you can adopt:

Strategy 1: Get the Message Across Without Saying the Word “No”

Scenario – It was time for John’s piano lesson but he was still playing with his toys.

Mum: John, it’s time to go for piano lesson.

John: Can I just finish this?

Mum: No, we have to leave for piano lesson now.

John started to whine and kick up a big fuss.

 Many children often throw a tantrum after hearing the word “No”. This is because the word “No” signals a lack of control on their part as they are given no choice but to listen to the adults.

The key is to get the message across without saying the word “No”.

Here’s how:

Mum: John, it’s time to go for piano lesson.

John: Can I just finish this?

Mum: Yes, you can finish it as soon as we get back.

John: Okay!

Strategy 2: Offer Choices

Offering choices allows children to feel like they have control over what they want.

Scenario – It was time for John to leave the playground.

John: I don’t want to go yet!

Dad: No, you have to go now.

John started to whine and kick up a big fuss.

Instead of saying “No”, think of two options that are acceptable to you and offer them to your child. When given a choice, children are more likely to do what you request.

Here’s how:

John: I don’t want to go yet!

Dad: Would you like to leave in 5 minutes or 10 minutes?

John: 10 minutes.

Dad: It’s a deal!

Strategy 3: Lead by Example

Children are easily influenced by what they see and hear. To get children to engage in positive behaviour, demonstrate the behaviour and describe your behaviour in words at the same time. In this way, the child gets to see and hear what you hope he/she will do without giving direct instructions.

Here’s how:

Scenario – Jane refuses to put on her sweater.

Mum: I’m feeling cold and I am going to wear a sweater.

Mum puts on her sweater. Jane watches her, then puts on her sweater too.

Strategies 4 & 5: Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings and Mean What You Say

Parents usually struggle to understand why seemingly trivial things can cause a huge reaction in their children.

Parents need to be more aware that children are easily overwhelmed. As children’s brains are less developed, their emotions often take over their thinking abilities. This can happen when they feel that their need for attention, control, security or feelings of success is not being met. Here are some situations that can make them feel that way:

1. they become fixated on something they want,

2. they become frustrated at their inability to do something, or

3. they feel an expectation on them to do something they dislike.

Scenario – Jane dropped her ice cream on the floor and started crying.

Mum: Never mind, it’s just an ice-cream. I told you to sit down when eating. Look at what happened now.

When Jane dropped her ice-cream, it was a huge disappointment to her. However, Mum felt that it was not a big deal and tried to comfort Jane with a dismissive statement.

This made Jane felt that Mum did not understand her feelings. Even when Mum offered to buy another ice-cream to stop Jane from crying, it was too late, as Jane was already at the peak of her emotions.

Here is one way to manage the situation:

Mum: Oh dear, you dropped your ice-cream. Ah… and you love that flavour. Let me give you a hug.

When Mum offered empathy, instead of getting more upset, Jane would start to think of how to improve the situation. Jane might consider that another ice-cream was going to help.

If Mum did not want to buy another ice-cream, here is another way to manage the situation:

Mum: We need to be back home in 10 minutes and there is no time to wait in the queue. I know this is hard for you. Maybe we can have something else you like once we are at home.

No matter how badly the child is behaving, caregivers have to remain firm. Giving in will only teach the child that shouting and demanding will get the child what he or she wants.

In the next issue, Jacelyn will share more strategies to assist caregivers. Look out for it.



  • How to Calm a Challenging Child, Miriam Chachamu (2008)

SPD is an All In Preferred Partner.

SPD is a charity in Singapore set up to help people with disabilities of all ages to maximise their potential and integrate them into mainstream society.

This guide was originally published by SPD and republished with minor editorial amendments by All In.

All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Read on …

Managing Challenging Behaviours in Children – Part 2

6 Tips for Strengthening Your Marriage