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We all have had tough days – work, kids, stress, keeping fit, doing the chores, life is a challenge, right? We overcome this with self-care and relaxation. We might hit the gym, go for a walk, take half an hour or even book a week away, yet how do you regulate emotions as a child? That’s where the challenge starts.


Children are constantly learning how to control and regulate their emotions from the day they are born, and as parents, it can be the ultimate challenge on monitoring this.


Emotions in children can come in many forms – a tantrum in a supermarket aisle or sitting on their bed for hours not talking to you. Sometimes young children will inappropriately express their emotions or try to meet their wants and needs by using behaviours that others may find challenging.


According to South Australia’s Department of Education, “natural curiosity and drive to become independent continues throughout their development. It often means children push against boundaries and limits which can be a challenge for parents. The child can be seen as ‘misbehaving’, naughty or defiant if the focus is on the behaviour itself rather than understanding the needs, thoughts, feelings or intentions that are driving it. Often challenging behaviour masks a child’s need to feel closer to you. They may not be aware of this or able to tell you.


So, what can we do as parents to manage this minefield of emotions?


Here are our tips for responding to challenging behaviour:


  • Calm the situation – Number one rule is to be calm and respectful when confronting the situation. It’s very hard coping with a very angry child, but if you reflect that anger the situation will escalate.
  • Be consistent – If you choose one approach or response to a certain behaviour pattern, make sure you maintain this. Children thrive on routine, so make sure you are providing this foundation. Being a consistent, reliable and responsive parent who helps keep them safe and recognises their individual wants and needs is important.
  • Show them the way – If you expect a certain behaviour then reward this and give explicit instructions on what you deem acceptable. Remind them of this action that you have agreed on to help diffuse the situation.
  • Communication is key– Encourage your child to explain and communicate how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. “Stop crying” may not be the answer! “Why are you crying, can you tell me what upset you?” might be a better method.
  • Be firm and strong– When a child is not emotionally stable and causing havoc, it can be difficult to maintain a strong, yet caring stance. Remember, as a parent you set the rules, you are the boss so don’t be afraid of setting clear and simple limits that your child understands.

Remember, parenting is one of the toughest jobs and there is no “one size fits all” approach. Together as a family you can set the foundation and rules of what is acceptable and create methods to try and resolve a situation quickly and effectively.