By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center

No child is happy-go-lucky 100% of the time. And, it’s important to honor all of your child’s emotions because it’s healthy to express happiness, sadness, anger and excitement. But, if your little one seems to respond negatively often, it might be time to intervene, especially if he is acting out in public.

While you work with your child on regulating his moods, it’s important to remember that he is not naughty; it’s his behavior that needs a re-boot. 

Try these tactics with your child:

Label feelings. This can be a helpful way for your child to understand his emotions and make him less likely to act out in negative ways (ie. tantrums, aggression, etc.). If your child can say, “That makes me sad,” he will be less likely to throw a tantrum. It can be helpful to teach children about feelings by talking about characters in a TV show or book. Questions such as, “How is that character feeling?” and “Why do you think that character is sad?” can teach your child empathy. When your child understands that yelling at his friend makes the other child feel sad, he might think twice before doing it.

Practice positive reinforcement. Ignore the negative and reward the positive. If your child is throwing a tantrum, make sure he is in a safe space and walk away. When he does something nice or helpful, praise him. Something simple like “Nice job using your words just now when you told your friend he made you angry,” will go a long way!

Teach positive coping skills. Model positive behavior for your child. If something makes you mad, say, “This is so frustrating when traffic is slow. I’m going to be late.” Then, allow your child to see you take a deep breath. It’s also ok to take a break. Instead of snapping at your family, find an activity that calms you down. Take a break and read a book, go for a walk away from the chaos and clear your mind.

Look for patterns that trigger negative behavior. Does your child act out when he’s hungry, tired or overstimulated? Work with your child to identify these situations and come up with ways to meet his need for comfort, additional sleep, etc. Empower your child to ask for help if he has a need instead of letting his bad mood get the best of him.

Oftentimes, negative behavior stems from a child’s quest for attention. When you are with your child, be present. Limit cell phone usage and get down on his level when he’s talking to you. Find fun activities you can engage in together and if you sense your child needs extra attention, do your best to schedule some downtime for you and him to relax. Instead of giving timeouts, ask him to “take a break” in a room or area he is comfortable in and let him know he can join the group when he’s ready to act nicely. Empower your child to make positive choices instead of just punishing him when he acts inappropriately.

What have you tried with your child when he acts out?


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