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7 Tips for Dealing with Challenging Behaviour

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I originally wrote this article for the Primary Times website in 2013. Unfortunately the article is no longer live, but I’ve reproduced the text below.

Primary Times article

7 Tips for Dealing with Challenging Behaviour

In this article Alison Thompson, author of The Boy from Hell: Life with a Child with ADHD offers some strategies to help you cope with even the most challenging behaviour.

Consistency and ‘following through’

If the rules change from day to day or you never follow through on punishments, you’re setting yourself up for a tough time. Set expectations and be consistent. List unacceptable behaviours on a poster on the wall so your child knows the deal. Don’t punish your child for something one day that you let them get away with another time – and set consequences you are willing to enforce.

Reverse reward charts

Some children find it hard to visualise a reward chart full of stickers so they don’t see the point of trying to get the stickers in the first place. Instead, try using a reverse reward system. Fill a jar with objects – marbles, coins, tokens, etc – and take away an object every time your child breaks the rules. At the end of the week (or day, if you prefer) convert any objects left in the jar into pocket money or a small treat.

Handling temper tantrums

Leaving a child to calm down is normally the best way to handle a temper tantrum, but it’s not always possible to do that. Learn the signs that your child is heading for a tantrum and try to deflect it. Find some way of changing the situation to avoid an explosion – for example, changing the subject completely, agreeing with your child or throwing a tantrum of your own! It doesn’t always work, but distraction can be very effective in the right circumstances.

Give praise

Giving praise has so many benefits. Apart from helping a child’s self esteem it shows them the difference between good and bad behaviour and helps to set boundaries and rules. Be specific with your praise – don’t just say “Well done” or “That was good,” point out exactly what it was that went well – and praise everything that goes well, no matter how trivial.

Offering choices

Challenging behaviour is often a sign that a child feels they lack control over their life, so giving them options can help. This can even work in terms of punishments. Instead of telling them to go to their room – which is likely to end in a battle of wills – let them choose whether they go to their room or help you with the cleaning/lose their pocket money etc. Your child is more likely to accept the punishment without a fuss when they actually have some control over what it is.

‘Time Out’ cards or code words

Time Out cards are often used in schools but they are also a useful tool in the home. Give your child a card to show you when they’re feeling stressed. Often children get so angry inside they can’t express their feelings verbally but showing the card lets you know what their mood is and you can then use other tactics to help avoid a tantrum. Alternatively give your child a specific word they can use to warn you they are close to exploding.

Finally, choose your battles carefully

When your child is displaying challenging behaviour it can seem that your entire day is spent telling them off. Choose the behaviours that are dangerous or most worrying and work on them first, otherwise your child is likely to spent most of their time in Time Out!

The Boy from Hell: Life with a Child with ADHD is available from Amazon ( or from

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