How to deal with children's behaviour problems

7 min read

How to deal with children's behaviour problems
Simple tasks can become extremely difficult when kids don't want to cooperate. Read our tips on how to deal with some common children's behaviour problems

My kids are fighting over toys

Few things are as exasperating as listening to children fighting over a toy or anything else. While your first inclination may be to banish the toy from existence, there’s a better way to restore peace.
Take advantage of the situation to teach your kids how to negotiate. The goal is to have them share the toy, or whatever it is they are fighting over. Direct them toward a compromise but let them work it out themselves.
"Take advantage of fights over toys by teaching kids how to negotiate"
Suggest possible solutions, such as that one child gets the toy for the morning and the other gets it for the afternoon. Teach them that every either/or situation can be turned into a “Why not both?” agreement. And make sure they understand that sharing the toy does not mean losing it for good.

My kids argue all the time

Just because siblings are related, this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily compatible. Fighting and arguing are a normal part of growing up with brothers and sisters. Here are a few ways to keeping the bickering in check:
  • Establish clear and firm limits on unacceptable behaviour—no hitting, screaming, throwing things—and enforce them
  • Provide a distraction. Put on some music and tell the kids it’s time to dance. Or invite a friend over for each of the squabbling siblings
  • Try not to get overly involved in the cause of the disagreement. Encourage the children to work it out themselves
  • If the arguing gets out of hand, call a time out for each child in separate places
  • Use positive reinforcement. Praise your kids when they’re getting along

My child shies away from group activities

Not all children adapt readily to group settings. So, what to do if your child, or a child you’re responsible for (such as a visiting playmate), refuses to participate in group games?
Seven children play a game on astroturf, where they jump between the rungs of a ladder lying on the ground
One approach is to get the child involved without actually playing the game. If it’s a sports game, for example, ask the child to help keep score, be the referee, or help decide disputes. This will give the child a stake in the outcome and may encourage him or her to give the game a try the next time.

A bully is tormenting my child

Research shows that one of the best ways to deal with a bully is to have a buddy around. The buddy does not necessarily have to be big or trained in the martial arts. Just having someone be there often helps. Have your child stick with a friend on the school bus, on the playground, or wherever the bullying is occurring.
"One of the best ways to deal with a bully is to have a buddy around"
When that’s not possible, your child should be equipped with appropriate responses to disarm the bully. Here are several steps your child can take:
  • Ignore the bully and walk away
  • In an assertive but not aggressive way, tell the bully to stop
  • Report the bullying to an adult
Make it clear to your child that they could make matters worse by falling apart, crying, making a snide comeback, or letting the bully know that they’re scared or upset. Make sure your child doesn’t blame themselves for the bullying; the problem is with the bully, not with your child.

My child won’t eat

The threat is probably as old as civilisation itself: “You’re not leaving this table until you clean your plate.” Thankfully, there are better ways to get children to eat their food. Here are some of them:
  • Involve your kids in menu planning and food preparation
  • Offer your children foods cut into interesting shapes or that are otherwise visually appealing
  • Switch meals around: pancakes for dinner, a hamburger for breakfast. When meals are surprising and fun, children may eat more
  • Negotiate. No seconds of the favourite food—say, spaghetti— until your kids have tried some of the vegetables
  • Encourage your children at least to try a new or rejected food, but don’t insist that they finish something they don’t like. Watching you eat and enjoy a rejected food might get them interested in it
  • Take a relaxed approach and don’t turn the dining table into a battleground. As long as your children are healthy, fluctuations in food intake are not a cause for alarm. Offer a variety of nutritious options and let your kids develop their own tastes and preferences

I need to get my children to pick up after themselves

Two children stand on a bed and have a pillow fight; there are flying feathers all over the room
Kids are very good at making a mess, less good at cleaning it up. Here are a few pointers:
  • Every child’s routine should include a regular household chore suited to his or her age and abilities. Make it clear to your children that putting away their toys, for example, is a requirement, not an option
  • Praise your kids when they do well; remind and cajole them when they don’t
  • If your children still resist picking up after themselves, a good old threat now and then won’t do permanent damage. Tell them that if they don’t clean up right now, you’re going to take three items lying around the floor to your local charity shop (Be prepared to follow through!)
  • If you have two or more kids, make a contest out of cleaning up. Whoever cleans the best or the fastest wins a prize

Getting my kids to sleep is a challenge

Going to sleep can sometimes be the most trying part of a kid’s day—for you, the parent. Here are some ways to help speed the process along:
  • Establish a bedtime routine—with set times for bath, brushing teeth, slipping on pyjamas, reading a story, and such—and stick to it. Give your kids a little notice so they can wrap up what they’re doing before starting their bedtime preparation
  • This tactic works particularly well for babies, but is good for toddlers, too: Strap the child in the car, put on some calming classical music, and take a slow drive around the neighbourhood. The movement of the car, the darkness of the night, and the soothing music will probably put the child to sleep 
  • If the kids are acting hyper, it’s next to impossible to get them to lie still. Turn this negative into a positive by playing a quick game of tag in the house. After ten or twenty minutes, everybody should be exhausted from running around
  • Children can be very creative when it comes to avoiding going to bed. Don’t cave in. It’s OK to insist that they stay in bed and go to sleep

My kids don’t want to do their homework

Two children sit at a wooden table filling in a worksheet
Simply forcing children to hit the books doesn’t always result in better grades. Here are some suggestions from experts:
  • Establish a clear, consistent after-school schedule, with time for relaxation, activities, and study. Homework doesn’t have to be done right after school, but it shouldn’t be left to the end of the day either, when everyone is tired
  • Provide the right environment for homework. Some children can work happily at the kitchen table; others require quiet
  • Try to be on hand when children are doing homework. Sit with younger ones and study with them. Make it fun for them. If memorisation is required, try singing the material
  • Don’t interfere too much in your children’s homework. Help guide your kids to the answer; don’t give it to them

Going to the supermarket with my kids is an ordeal

Kids and shopping are often an unhappy combination. But there are ways to make the experience less exasperating for you.
  • Try to avoid going shopping with your kids when they’re tired, hungry, or not feeling well
  • Keep the kids occupied and distracted. Bring along toys and books, and make sure to interact with them
  • It can be frustrating for a child to watch you pick item after item from your list and have all his or her requests turned down. Instead of saying no each time your child asks for something, say instead, “Let’s add it to the list.” When you’ve finished shopping, read back the items on your child’s list and let him or her pick one or two of those items

My kids’ whining is driving me crazy

You’ve probably heard the old adage: “Your child knows your magic number.” Your kids ask for something—sweets in the supermarket checkout line, for instance, or an extra 30 minutes of TV—and you say no. Then they’ll keep asking, over and over, until they hit the magic number of noes, when you either give in or lose your temper.
Well, the old adage has been backed up by research. Here’s the simple solution (also backed up by research): the next time your children ask for something, such as sweets, and your answer is no, say no.
"When your children ask for something and your answer is no, say no"
If they whine or keep asking for the sweets, wait five seconds and then give a warning, such as “If you ask me again, you’ll get a time-out” (or whatever punishment is appropriate). The third time, follow through. Stick with this simple routine, and your magic number will become one.

My child had a bad day

When children come home from school or the playground complaining about having had a bad day, because they got into a fight, for example, or lost a favourite toy, parents tend to both downplay the incident and problem-solve. These responses can seem insensitive to children and may even keep them from confiding in you in the future.
A woman hugs a crying child
Chances are, what they really need is empathy. A good way to demonstrate empathy is through a technique called reflective listening, in which you gently repeat what your child is telling you. This makes your youngster feel that you’re really listening and sharing his or her emotional experience.

Fear of the dark keeps my child awake

What child isn’t afraid of the dark at some point? Night-lights or desk lamps help some of the time, but not always, especially not if your child is having vivid nightmares. Often after bad dreams, your child will want to sleep in your bed.
"For your child's and your benefit, don't let them sleep in your bed if they're scared of the dark"
For your child’s benefit and yours, don’t allow it. Walk your child back to his or her room and sit for a little while, if that helps, rubbing your child’s back or singing a song. Create a calming ritual. But do not linger too long. You want your child to overcome his or her fears independently.
Banner photo: Some common behavioural problems in children, and how to sort them (credit: Caleb Woods (Unsplash))
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