Calm and happy children: quick tips for Parents of children with challenging behaviours

Raising a child with additional learning needs and/or challenging behaviours can be very stressful on families.  Parents often aren’t sure where to turn to get help. Here are some suggestions that can help contribute to a calm and happy home life.

–           All behaviour (the good, the bad and the ugly) is trying to tell you something. Your child may be tired, frustrated, hungry or seeking attention – they just can’t express it appropriately.
–          Your child may not know what is expected of them in a given situation. Make your expectations explicit. What does “be good at the shops” actually mean? What does it look like? And the next time you go to the shops you will have to go through it again. And quite possibly the time after that!
–          Provide plenty of positive feedback, confident in the knowledge that you are not ‘spoiling them’.  Children with special needs may not have experienced success in the way other children have. And it is not forever, it is for now. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gesture. A smile, a wink, a quick hug, a thumbs up or a high five may be acknowledgment enough.
–          Rather than try to eliminate inappropriate behaviours, it is much more effective to try to replace negative behaviours with something else.
–          Focus on the positive and find something encouraging to say even in a bad situation e.g. after a tantrum say “That wasn’t the right way to react but I liked the way you said sorry to me”.
–          In a perfect world, as parents we would always model the behaviour we want to see. Of course, that is much easier said than done.  The reality is that you’ll encourage positive behaviour if you are calm and in control of the situation.  Take your child through the checkout rather than the do-it-yourself so they can see you smile at the operator, look them in the eye, have a chat and use good manners.
–          Structure the environment so it promotes success. The mantra should be ‘change the environment, not the child’.
–          PLAN. This is another gem that is easier said than done but worth the effort. Plan the day and in doing so, plan for success. Plan for transition times that are often fraught e.g. leaving a preferred activity to go to the next activity. Be prepared with activities for any waiting time during the day.
–          Yesterday is gone. It may well have resulted in a communal meltdown (!)  but greet this day with a smile and let your child know that yesterday’s events are forgotten.
–          Use discreet signals that you have worked out between the two of you to let your child know, without having to give yet another instruction, that something about their behaviour is inappropriate e.g. a subtle gesture with your hand may mean “your voice is too loud”.
–           Acknowledge and discuss with your child the fact that everyone feels angry sometimes. Because we live, work and go to school with other people we have to learn to react the right way when we feel angry. Outline what they are not allowed to do when they feel angry. Make a chart with pictures, symbols or words as well as a list of acceptable ways to let feelings of anger and frustration out e.g. run outside and scream for 30 seconds, punch a pillow. If they choose a positive option, discuss it with them and praise them “I could see you were angry when that happened, but you did the right thing and went outside for a minute to cool down. I’m really proud of you”.
–          The ultimate goal is self-management. This must be taught. We have to teach responsible behaviour. We have to teach how to be considerate of others. This is true for all students. And it should be the undercurrent for the whole day.  It is an inspiring sight to see a well-run, organised classroom where the teacher and students clearly have respect for each other and like each other. Your home can have the same energy!
Jiselle Simpson is Director of Chilled Kids, an educational support service specialising in creating programs for children with additional learning or behavioural needs.  For more information on how Chilled Kids can help your child visit our website at, phone 0408 716 350 or email

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