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Behavior Management for Troubled Children

By Flora Richards-Gustafson ; Updated June 13, 2017

When professionals state that a child is troubled, this can stem from a variety of reasons — from living in a hostile home environment to having a condition like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. When a troubled child demonstrates unwanted behavior, the article “Teaching Your Child Self-Control” states that behavior management can help him respond to situations in a healthy manner instead of act impulsively.


Behavior management helps parents, caregivers and teachers maintain order rather than modify how a child acts, according to Judith Osgood Smith, PhD, in the LD Online article “Behavior Management: Getting to the Bottom of Social Skills Deficits.” When you practice behavior management, you act and communicate in a way that encourages a troubled child to choose behaviors that are socially acceptable, healthy and productive.

Understanding a Troubled Child's Behavior

In the article “Managing Problem Behavior at Home” on the Child Mind Institute’s website, Melanie A. Fernandez, PhD, ABPP, states that behavior management begins with observing a troubled child. This helps you understand and appropriately respond to undesirable behaviors. Think about the events that occurred before and after the child acted-out. Dr. Fernandez says that when you know a child’s bad-behavior triggers and avoid them, you can prevent misbehavior. While triggers vary by child, they can include fatigue, anxiety, hunger and distractions.

Helping a Troubled Child Understand Her Behavior

To manage a troubled child’s behavior, Dr. Fernandez states that you can’t just tell her that she’s “being bad,” or “acting up” or needs to “stop it.” Instead, tell her which specific, observable and measurable behaviors you expect and which are inappropriate. For example, you might tell the child that it’s wrong for her to grab her brother’s toy from his hands without asking, and she needs to politely ask for permission first. However, the American Psychological Association in the online article “Shaping Pro-Environment Behaviors” and Dr. Fernandez share that when you speak to a child about her actions, it’s best to use language that reinforces a positive action instead of focus on the negative behavior. For example, instead of telling a child that she needs to yell less at the dinner table, tell her that she needs to use her “inside” voice.


Dr. Osgood Smith shares that a troubled child may have a social skills deficit -- he knows the appropriate way to behave, but chooses not to -- that needs additional interventions. Such deficits can be motivation-, discrimination- or performance-based. A mental health professional who specializes in behavioral issues and working with troubled kids can make the determination regarding a child’s social skills deficits and design an intervention strategy accordingly, if basic behavior strategies don’t seem to help.

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