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How to deal with the challenging behavior of our children?

10 April 2020

Nikoleta Yoncheva /speech therapist/ and Stefka Tsvetanova /psychologist/
Trainers at Karin Dom Foundation

Angry, sad, helpless, confused, all of these feelings are probably familiar to you when your child is yelling, biting, pinching, hitting, throwing, and often despite your attempts it is difficult for you to cope with the situation. If you recognize yourself in the above, or just want to hear a few fresh but proven ideas for supporting your kids’ good behavior, then this article is for you. The article will focus on children at the age between 2 and 7, as in early childhood and with rapid development, children learn models of behaviors that become persistent over time.

Challenging behavior is most often manifested by hitting, biting, screaming, pulling hair, crying, pinching, door slamming, etc. This is the so-called form of behavior. These behaviors occur more often in case of a change for the child – when he becomes ill, feels exhausted, something hurts, is not fed, is difficult to handle a task, has a desire to prove himself, experiences some kind of stress, or something in the environment annoys him /like light, noise, etc./ It is important to distinguish which behaviors are dangerous for the life and health of the child and the others and which ones are not.

Dangerous behaviors include: hitting his head in the wall / floor; hitting, kicking, or throwing heavy objects.

It is not dangerous when he bites himself or others, but without using teeth and injuring; kicking the tower of plastic cubes of another child; crying, whining, etc.

It is important for us as parents to know that inappropriate behavior can have the same manifestation /form/, but behind it there may be a different purpose or function: a communicative function /the child wants to tell us something but does not know how/; attracting our attention /while mom is working, and the child wants to play, even if we scold him – sometimes a goal is achieved/; boredom /no interesting activity for the child at the moment, or not involved in an activity/; habit /scratching the nose, playing with hair, etc./; a desire for control /I want to impose rules/ or sensory issues /generally, there is a change in the sensing of touch or the perception of sound and light/.

Any behavior can be provoked and exhibited depending on the situation and the reaction of the people towards it.

Imagine the following situation: father and daughter go to the store. The child is calm. Upon entering the store, the child notices a toy stand and specifically baby cry dolls, so she wants a doll /slip/. Daddy ignores her and pulls her forward. The girl becomes angry because Daddy has pulled her over and she wants the dolls. Daddy says “I will not pick up dolls”, the child begins to pull away /escalate/. Daddy has already shopped, pays at the cash register and tells his daughter, “Get in the car!” The child lies down on the floor and starts screaming her whole throat, shaking, kicking… Father picks her up, gives her a favourite thing, like the  phone, and gradually the behavior re-escalates.


In order to cope with behaviors, we must try not to allow them reach their peak. This can be done with the following strategies:

  • Building rules and routines. Family rules, adherence to and upholding them by all  family members give the child peace of mind and a model of behavior. To make it easier to create and follow the rules, they can be visualized using a visual dashboard. If you are interested in visualizing the environment and more ideas on how to use it at home, feel free to contact us.
  • Giving clear and concise instructions. If you want your child to do something, speak softly, clearly and shortly. Stay close to him, on his level. Give him time to react. Encourage him at every small step. “Come on, that’s right. You only have 2 pieces left to put on, you can do it.” This will make your child feel able, praised and motivated, and the few words and soft voice will allow him to listen and understand you.
  • Right to choose. Always give your child a choice between two things. “Which socks do you want – with ducklings or with turtles?” This will make the children feel successful, grown up, because they have made the choice themselves but are also responsible. “Which one will you start with – the booklet or the notebook?”
  • Handling emotions. In the event of inappropriate behavior, avoid hugging and kissing the child. As parents, we know how strong the need, instinct and desire to reassure our child are, but in such situation we do him a disservice. This way, the child understands that whatever he or she does, mom and dad will always love him and forgive him / the hug is a reward for the child’s behavior and it reinforces him / her. Secondly, in this way we prevent our child from learning to handle his own emotions, to self-regulate. It is important for the child to learn how to talk about emotions, how to read them in yourself and others, and how to react. Try to explain to the child how he or she feels and what provoked these feelings. “I see that you are angry, you are hitting, kicking, your body is shaking because you want …, but the rules are … Or when you hit other kids, it hurts and they get sad. “
  • In a moment of intense affect / peak of inappropriate behavior – we do not always manage to respond in time and behaviors escalate. Then for all people – children and adults, regulation is impossible for a certain period of time. We feel physical discomfort, emotions intensify and rational thinking is impossible. That is, the child does not hear us or see us, he cannot do what we want.
  • Quiet corner. At that point we can only move the child to a safe place. You can have a seating area with a rug, a mattress, a tent, etc. There, in a safe place, the child will only be able to calm down and then discuss what happened.
  • Redirecting attention. If you think your child can still handle the situation, simply direct him or her to something he or she can do, for example. “You can play on the floor”; “You can play with clay when you put away the puzzle.” Do not talk too much, as this will increase the child’s frustration even further, but stand by what you said. If the child still does not respond, simply move him to a safe place.
  • Taking away a dangerous item. If your child starts tossing you with something or tossing at other children, simply remove the item from his or her hands by saying, “Let go.” Avoid squeezing child’s hands, raising your tone, just grab the object and take it.
  • Object or physical barrier. In case of throwing, kicking, biting, you can place a pillow or blanket between you and the child. If this situation plays out between two children, simply stand between them as a barrier.
  • Biting or hair pulling. When the child bites or begins to pull someone’s hair, try not to move because this will only increase the strength of the bite or grip. Wait a minute, say “Let go!” or gently push the child’s chin down or open his or her fist.
  • Hitting. If the child walks against you, striking at you, simply redirect his  movement by gently turning him away from the shoulder using his force and energy.

In this article, we tried to introduce you to some of the most common situations in everyday life, as well as some of the most effective strategies. Our team is always there to support families and professionals.

We have a message for you: “When a child cannot speak – we teach him to speak. When he can’t ride a bike – we teach him how to pedal and look ahead. When he can’t read – teach him the letters, etc. When he has inappropriate behavior or doesn’t know how to behave and express himself – help him, teach him how to handle it. You are with your children every day, and now even more than ever. They follow your example and you are the best teacher for them. The punishment would lead to nothing positive. As a result of punishment, children begin to hide their emotions, to become frustrated more often, to feel misunderstood or bad, to feel fear. So be positive, give strength and direction, and you will have smiling, motivated and trusting in you and in themselves  children who can handle more difficult choices and situations in life in the future.

Строим новия терапевтичен и образователен комплекс във Варна

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