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Five strategies for dealing with your child's "bad" behavior

Does it seem like your child is being stubborn or ignoring you on purpose? Learn how to better understand and cope with his behavior.

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

Are there times when your child seems to willfully defy you? Do you receive frequent notes or phone calls from school about those same behaviors? Out of frustration, do you find yourself raising your voice or saying things you later regret?

Understanding your child's behavior

Behavior is a way of communicating with others. It can be aimed at getting something, such as your attention or a snack. You may have experienced this when you're talking on the phone and your child just has to speak to you. Behavior may also be designed to help him escape doing something that's really hard or would keep him from having fun. You may have noticed this when you ask him to do his chores, but he'd rather play computer games.

As a parent, you may think you understand what your child's behavior is telling you. But even though you know him well, there will be times when the message isn't clear.

Strategies for managing frustrating behavior

Following directions

If your child doesn't follow directions, it's easy to believe he's being stubborn or ignoring you on purpose. But his behavior may be covering up problems remembering or understanding directions. Perhaps you're talking too much — giving him more than he can handle verbally.

Next time see if these strategies help him:

  • Get his attention and eye contact before giving directions.
  • Show him what you want him to do.
  • Make a picture chart or list to serve as a reminder. Ask him to explain directions or show you what he's supposed to do before he gets started.
  • Reduce the amount of talking (lecturing) you do to him.

Tackling homework

If your child doesn't start homework until the last minute, you may think he's being lazy or defiant. But maybe he doesn't know how to get started. Perhaps he has problems with the concept of time or can't decide when his work is good enough. Some kids think the "due date" is the day they're supposed to "do" the project.

These ideas may help to make homework time a little less frustrating:

  • Have him set a goal for quality and amount to do on an assignment before he begins.
  • Get him started on his homework to make sure he understands what's expected.
  • Set a timer for a certain amount of time to help him get a sense of how long things take.
  • Teach him to use a daily, weekly, or monthly planner so he can plan assignments and their due dates.
  • Help him break long term assignments into smaller parts so he has less to do at deadline time.

Sitting still

If your child just can't seem to sit still to get anything done, it's easy to believe he's just being difficult. But he may physically need to move more than his brothers or sisters because that's who he is. Here are some ways to help:

  • Make sure the chair and desk heights are right for him - feet flat on the floor and writing arm supported by the desk surface - when he's doing homework.
  • Be sure all necessary supplies are handy for him so he doesn't have to jump up and down to get things he needs.
  • Make sure he knows what he's supposed to do and when he's supposed to do it.
  • Build in opportunities to move - get a drink of water between activities or show you the project when it's finished.

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.

Comments from readers

"All of these strategies should be helpful. My 7 year old grandson is so desperately controlling that he tries to keep me from talking at all ... to even ask if he would like something to drink ... just anything and constantly tells me to shut up. I am 64 years old and a very loving grandmother, keep a warm inviting environment for him, have WII and other appropriate games for him to play and appropriate movies for him to watch and am a very good cook and try and have healthy meals for him when he spends weekends with me. I look forward to studying all of this information and combining with prayer to learn to be more effective and to especially understand his pain and to be careful to be a positive role model instead of trying to change him. Just reading this enlightening information encourages me for tomorrow morning when I look forward to a visit from my grandson for the day. I want so much to find a way to comfort him and to keep control of myself after constant menta! l abuse with appropriate and helpful responses. Thanks so much! "
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