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Handling Challenging Behaviors in Young Children
December, 2018 - Issue #171
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

Parents of young children know all too well how difficult it can be to handle challenging behaviors. Young children are dealing with so many emotions that even the simplest transition can become an epic meltdown.

Challenging behaviors typically show a pattern.
Look for it! When is the behavior happening? Is it during transitions? When you have to leave the house? Before bed? When the environment is very loud or busy? After you have pinpointed the pattern, it's time to be proactive and try to prevent the behavior from occurring.

Provide a warning:
If your child is struggling with transitions, try giving them a two-minute warning of what is coming next. Let them know they have two more minutes and let them know your expectations. For example, you might say, "In two minutes, we are going to put on your shoes and leave the house. I know you are going to be such a great listener!" or "In two minutes, we are going to clean up and put all of our toys away." After two minutes say, "Now it's time to clean up! Which toys are you going to clean up first? Wow! Look how fast you are at cleaning up! You are doing great!" The more positive reinforcement a child hears, the more they will want to continue that behavior.

Get down to their level:
Children are always being talked at. When a child is upset, sad or angry, it is helpful to bend down to their level or sit on the floor while you are talking to them. This helps children feel safe when they are feeling big emotions.

Talk about emotions:
Young children are often unable to express how they are feeling. It is helpful for them to learn language that helps them express themselves. Point out emotions you see in your child to help them to identify them. "I see that you are so happy today! Were you so excited to play with your friend today? Or "I can see you are feeling angry; are you upset because we have to leave?" By pointing out emotions and pairing it with language, children will begin to express it on their own.
Taylor Hernandez, MA, Ed, has 14 years experience in the field of Early Childhood Education. She lives in Santa Clarita with her husband and three young children and is currently working on a child-development website.
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