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PRACTICAL TIPS AND TOOLS: Managing Challenging Behaviors With Love

Note: The following handout is adapted from Early Connections: A Parent Café Curriculum From ZERO TO THREE (Parlakian, Lerner, Kinsner, & Gehl, 2023), developed with funding from the Linda I. Garrity trust, which represents the latest thinking on research-informed parenting practices that support the development of strong, secure attachments and healthy child development. The curriculum will be available online at zerotothree.org/bookstore.

The Early Connections parent café curriculum consists of 10 90-minute sessions to be facilitated in community-based settings. In each session, participants explore their own parenting journeys—for example, discussing the influence of their own childhoods on their parenting—as well as learn and practice ZERO TO THREE’s research-informed positive parenting principles. The following information is adapted from Unit 8: Reducing Challenging Behavior.

Strategies to Reduce Challenging Behavior

It’s not possible to eliminate challenging behavior. These behaviors tell us when our children are overwhelmed and unable to cope. However, there are strategies that can reduce challenging behavior:

  • Notice and describe our child’s feelings. It helps them feel heard.
  • Teach them how to cope. This gives them the tools they need to manage big feelings as they grow.
  • Point out what our child is doing well. It feels good when your parents think you’re great.
  • State rules in positive ways—by explaining what children can and should do. This practices teaches them the behaviors we want to see.
  • Use routines. They help children know what to expect next and feel safe.
  • Help children with transitions. This gives them time to prepare and cuts down on protests.
  • Create a child-safe space. This sets them up for success and means you are not saying “no” all the time.
  • Plan ahead for challenging situations. It teaches children appropriate ways to cope
  • Enjoy one-on-one time with children. Build the connection your child needs to thrive.
  • Be aware of your own stress level. It will help you create a healthy, peaceful home for the whole family.

Reflection Questions

The following questions can spark insight on ways to prevent challenging behavior, and they can be implemented via a parent café discussion:

  • What do you see as a parent’s role in preventing challenging behavior?
  • When you were growing up, did your parents use any of these strategies with you? If so, which ones?
  • When you were growing up, did you have an adult in your life who believed in you and always made time for you? How did that feel? Did that relationship make it easier or harder to accept rules/limits from them?
  • Which of these strategies do you think might be most difficult for you to use? Why?
  • Are you already using any of these strategies? If so, how is it going?
  • Are there other strategies you use to prevent challenging behavior? What are they?
  • How do you think your child feels when you notice something good they’ve done or make time to be with them with no distractions? How do you feel in these moments?

These prevention strategies can be used with children from birth to teens. They are tools you can try during everyday moments to strengthen your relationships, respond to your children’s emotions in the moment, and teach them how to manage their feelings appropriately.

Suggested Citation

Parlakian, R., Lerner, C., Kinsner, K., & Gehl, M. (2023). PRACTICAL TIPS AND TOOLS: Managing challenging behaviors with love. ZERO TO THREE Journal, 43(4), 58-59.