Parenting kids with behavioural issues
Raising a child with behavioural problems can be rewarding but tough. We ask psychologists for strategies to help you handle the challenges.
Parenting is hard work, and can be especially difficult if you have a child with behavioural problems. Topping the exhaustion of dealing with even simple daily tasks and emotional meltdowns, you may feel a sense of failure when the standard parenting advice doesn’t work for your child.
You’re not alone; 18% of children have significant emotional problems needing professional help, reports the Medical Journal of Australia. A further 5-8% experience an attention deficit disorder.
Symptoms of behavioural issues in kids include ongoing:
- frequent temper tantrums
- difficulty concentrating
- refusal to obey rules
- overactivity and restlessness.
While it’s normal for kids to have these behaviours from time to time, if it becomes hard to manage or it’s impacting their home, social or school life, it might be time to speak to a doctor or psychologist.
The most common behavioural disorders include oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, reports Better Health Victoria.
There are lots of ways you can support your kids, with the right tools and understanding.
Strategies for parents
- Clinical Psychologist Dr David Collins shares tips on managing difficult behaviour:
- manage screen time to support attention development
- give positive feedback, even for small efforts
- keep instructions clear and simple; always check for understanding
- create consistent, predictable routines
- break up academic tasks with fun activities and physical exercise.
Supporting your child
Clinical Psychologist Kirrilie Smout has a program for parents of children aged 4–11 that revolves around 3 key concepts. Many of the children on the program have challenging behaviour or have been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiant, disorder, anxiety or learning disorders. The concepts are:
- Connect: provide a secure and loving environment. This includes healthy family relationships with two-way communication, respect and spending time together.
- Coach: teach skills to help children thrive in different situations.
- Take charge: create an environment with clear rules and expectations.
“Children with behavioural challenges often have more need for connection, for reinforcement and skill coaching than other kids,” she says.
Life skills for children include managing emotions, learning resilience, getting through school, and dealing with social situations.
“Often when they’re not doing well with something, it’s because there’s a skill gap,” Smout says, explaining that it’s important to teach specific techniques.
For instance, if your child gets upset about losing a game, you can help them find strategies to deal with those emotions by asking, “What can you do when you lose a game that makes you feel a tiny bit better?”
“So it’s all about being a coach,” Smout says.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental wellbeing, we have useful tools and resources for the whole family.
HCF members with hospital or extras cover have access to Calm Kid Central*, an online educational and support program to help kids aged 4-11 learn to act bravely and confidently, behave in positive ways, develop good friendships and manage tough life situations.
There is also a range of mental health support, such as online video support with PSYCH2U for eligible HCF members^ and online programs through This Way Up⁺, a not-for-profit initiative developed by experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, to help you take control of your mental wellbeing.
Where to find extra help for kids’ mental health support:
Words by Natalie Parletta
Updated October 2021
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