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Strategies for Dealing With Difficult Children

By Denise Stern ; Updated June 13, 2017

Dealing with children can be difficult at times, regardless of their age. Whether children are experiencing what are commonly known as the terrible twos or the awful threes or going through the emotional throes of teenage-hood, most parents experience periods of uncertainty and difficulty at times during a child's formative years. Learning a variety of strategies to deal with difficult, angry, belligerent or sad children is an effective way to offer solid and loving support to children.

Plan Ahead

While it's impossible to anticipate how a child or teen may react to any given situation, it's often advisable for parents and caregivers to determine ahead of time the best methods for dealing with a variety of emotions or scenarios, suggests Karin Suesser, child psychologist. Try being consistent with all of your children, when it comes to things such as bedtime, curfew and consequences of disobedience. While your toddler and teenager have different bedtimes, ensure that each of them are actually going to bed at their designated bedtime. Each child should follow their rules and have their own consequences. If your toddler refuses to clean up her toys, you need to follow through with her punishment, whether it's a time-out or early bedtime. When your teen breaks curfew, he also needs to face the consequences of his actions, whether you decide to ground him or take away his video games, whatever the case may be.

Be Positive

Instead of continuously telling children or teens what they're doing wrong, or asking why they don't listen to you, use positive remarks and encouragements to elicit the behavior you're looking for, Suesser suggests. For example, offer ways to circumvent bad behavior. Offer paper and crayons to a child scribbling on a wall, or show a child how to pull weeds instead of flowers in the back yard.

Set Boundaries

Teach children of all ages the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, especially in angry children, suggests Richard Niolon, clinical psychologist writing for PsychPage. His main focus is on telling children what they should do instead of what they shouldn't do. For example, recognize good behavior and actions and do your best to ignore less-desired behaviors as long as they aren't hurting anyone, such as them tugging on your arm while you're on the phone. If children whine or get louder, gently say "no" or "I'll talk with you in just a minute."

Provide Physical Activity

Engaging a child or teen in physical activities may diffuse anger, frustration or boredom, suggests Niolon. Encourage children to express such anger in ways that won't damage property or hurt someone else. Let them pound their pillow, kick a plastic trash can outside or another such activity. When they've calmed down a little, give them a hug, let them know you're there for them, and that even parents and adults get angry once in a while. It's OK to feel anger but not to hurt others or lash out because of it.

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