Managing Challenging Behaviours in Your Children

Matthew McKenzie, Clinical Psychologist

Getting your child to cooperate with you can be one of the most challenging experiences as a parent. However, it can be achieved if you’re willing to adjust a few things. Changing the child’s environment is key; your attitudes, behaviours, rules, methods of discipline and lifestyle constitute the environment in which your child lives.

your attitudes, behaviours, rules, methods of discipline and lifestyle

constitute the ENVIRONMENT in which your child lives.

One of the things parents are always hungry for answers about is the root of the challenging behaviours in children. Some of the more pronounced ones are inconsistent discipline, excessive punishment of the child, lack of parental supervision and angry adult role models. One thing’s clear – many of the factors are under parental control and can be eliminated by parents, if parents choose to do so.

In some families parents consistently fail to notice, praise and reward the child’s good behaviour. The child therefore has little reason to display good behaviour, because he knows his parent/s will not respond to it. It is also the case in these families that parents angrily respond to the child’s bad or inappropriate behaviour. Thus these behavioural problems become a means by which children gain some attention from their parents, even if it’s negative attention.

In some of these families parents allow all kinds of misbehaviour to go unchecked and then periodically the crack down on the child with excessively harsh or abusive punishment; almost as if this punishment is payment for everything negative that the child has done over the past three months. Such inconsistent behaviours by parents place defiant children at greater risk for full-blown antisocial behaviour in adolescence and later life.

 “inconsistent behaviours by parents place defiant children at

greater risk for full-blown antisocial behaviour in  later life”

Over-reliance on punishment is an approach that creates many more problems than it solves. Excessive use of punishment trains the child to lie and to engage in sneaky behaviour to avoid punishment. Children may begin to feel fearful of their parents and actively avoid them. Punishment for bad behaviour should preferably be used sparingly. For punishment to be effective it has to be used as little as possible; occur immediately after the child displays unwanted behaviour; be carried out in the same manner each time; be handled in a calm business-like way; and be of short duration.

The key is consistency. When you do not enforce the rules of your home consistently, your child learns that sometimes I can get away with it. Keeping even a few of these things in mind can go a long way to help you manage your child’s behaviour more effectively. Remember, there are no bad children, just bad behaviours and so when we punish, we seek to punish the behaviour and not the child.


This article first appeared in the CHILD’S MONTH SUPPLEMENT of the Paediatric Association of Jamaica,

Gleaner May, 2013

Matthew McKenzie is a Clinical Psychologist at Tots to Teens.

He can be contacted via the office or via email at