Understanding 7 Challenging Child Behaviors

Phew! We’ve all been there. On the verge of losing our cool as our sweet, angelic, adorable, beloved, and cherished child behaves somewhat abominably. We love them more than life itself, but sometimes? Sometimes they can push our buttons.

As the leading psychologist in the Moorpark area, working with children and teens through their emotions can be difficult for a parent. At Simi Psychological Group, our team of licensed child and teen therapists provide specialized services for child and parent to provide each with the tools to help support each other through classically challenging child behaviors.

1) Tantrums- We’ve all experienced this with our child or someone else’s. Tantrums are usually the result of a child being over-tired, over-stimulated, hungry, or emotionally frustrated and overwhelmed. And sometimes they happen just because.

A child having a tantrum is a child who does not have the skills at that moment to articulate their needs, express their feelings, or ask for support. All they know is that something’s not going their way, and they are not happy about it!

The best approach to a tantrum is to speak to your child calmly and check in with them about what might be upsetting them, what they might need, or what they are feeling. If your child can calm down through this interaction with you, wonderful. If not, keep cool, make sure your child is safe, and wait it out. Eventually, they wear themselves down, and you can respond to the situation then.

2) Aggression- Things like hitting, biting, fighting, not sharing, pushing, and the like can mean different things at different stages. Developmentally, it’s very common in younger children as they don’t have the language skills to communicate what they’re feeling, nor the impulse control to regulate their emotions. That comes much later.

Responding in a calm, loving, yet firm manner will help your child understand what is acceptable and what is not. It’s important to help your child develop the tools to use when they’re feeling angry or frustrated, so they understand that the emotions themselves are healthy and normal (everyone gets angry and frustrated), but certain behaviors in response to those emotions are not. It’s ok to be jealous, disappointed, or mad, but hitting, pushing, or acting out aggressively is not.

Help your child understand what they’re feeling by labeling their emotions, and then give your child alternatives. Show them and talk to them about what they can do when they are feeling that way.

3) Whining- Few things grate on our adult nerves (parent or no parent) than a whiney child. There’s something to it that can send even the calmest among us right over the edge. The key point to keep in mind when your child is whining is that they are communicating a need.

Rather than shut them down, try crouching to eye level and responding. If your child is able to talk, ask them to communicate what it is they need in another way or to restate their request without whining. By getting down to their level, you are letting them know that they have your attention and you are emotionally available.

If your child has a limited vocabulary, again, get down to their level and work with them on what it is they might need at that moment. A whiney child may be seeking attention, connection, comfort, reassurance, or physical or emotional safety. The tone might be annoying, but their needs and emotions are valid.

4) Excessive silliness- Being silly is part of being a child and is often quite endearing. They can’t yet contain their enthusiasm or excitement and may appear to be bursting at the seams, giddy and goofy and all sorts of silly. While we might be wishing they’d just calm down and sit still, dealing with this over-the-top behavior from time to time is pretty normal.

However, while children are known to have a lot of energy, excessive silliness may indicate that something else is going on. They might simply be over-tired, or they might be acting this way due to an underlying issue. If you feel your child’s silliness is problematic, it’s a good idea to talk to their primary care physician.

5) Food fussiness- A child’s refusal to eat the meal you’ve spent time and energy, lovingly preparing can be very frustrating! But when we overreact or become emotional, we’re not helping the situation any. It’s important to remember that a child’s fussiness around food, or food refusal, is typically a sign of their emerging independence developmentally.

While some parents worry about their child going hungry, don’t let your child’s refusal to eat become a battle of wills, and offering them something else is generally ill-advised. Your child may be testing boundaries, may be practicing new skills, or maybe they’re just not hungry. Keep calm and make the prepared meal or food item available when they’re ready. They are not going to starve.

6) Willfulness- Developmentally speaking, children go through stages of testing out their independence. We’ve all heard of the “terrible two’s,” though many would say the “terrible three’s” is more accurate, and we’re well aware that our kids will once again push the boundaries when they hit their teen years. For some children, temperament may be a huge factor as well. Some kids are naturally more laid back and easygoing, and others come out of the womb feisty and ready to take on the world.

Whether it’s a stage or their natural way of being, it can be exhausting as a parent to feel like you’re constantly arguing or negotiating with this tiny terror. But hang in there! Give your strong-willed child options whenever possible, and learn to let go of the non-essentials. For example, your kiddo wants to wear mismatching socks or a ridiculous clothing ensemble? Let it go. Give them the win when the stakes are low, take a deep breath, and pick your battles. In the end, being strong-willed can be an asset that will help your child navigate difficult situations as they grow up.

7) Impatience- It’s simply a fact that both cognitive ability and emotional regulation are things kids develop gradually or learn as they grow. They aren’t born with the innate ability to self-soothe (though we can begin teaching them how to do this at an early age). They want what they want when they want it. Patience requires the ability to navigate feelings of frustration and other strong emotions, as well as some impulse control, all of which are learned behaviors. So, until your child has the cognitive and emotional maturity to navigate these moments, they’re going to exhibit impatience. You can help them by teaching them healthy ways to manage their emotions (emotional regulation skills) and specific coping techniques they can use when they’re tempted to act out with impatience.

The bottom line is no child is perfectly well-behaved, angelic, and emotionally balanced at all times. In fact, if they were, that in itself would be a huge red flag. After all, we’re not raising robots. Fortunately, understanding and normalizing these common, challenging child behaviors will help you better manage them and, most importantly, respond to your child’s needs appropriately.

If you are looking for additional ways to help support your child or teen through their challenging emotions, contact the team of Moorpark therapists at Simi Psychological Group. Our team of child therapists is here to help you better understand your child and their needs. Call (805) 842-1994 to learn more.