10 tips for parenting a child whose behaviour is challenging

Difficult or challenging behaviour can be one of toughest things you can face as a parent of a child with ASD or ADHD (and other conditions that can manifest in these issues) Not only do you have to find a way to manage the behaviour, but your very ability as a parent can feel like it's under attack from teachers, medical practitioners and even other parents and relatives.

Barbara Follows is the parent of an adult who had behavioural difficulties as a child. She also has a Masters degree in Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) and is an experienced SEN and child behaviour consultant. Barbara has worked in mainstream and special schools in the UK and abroad across the full age range, including five years at a secondary boarding school for teenage boys with severe behavioural problems. Since 2001, she has run the MaMBiC (Managing and Moderating Behaviour in Children) service and has even worked in Namibia advising the Namibian Government about improving children's access to education.

Rather wonderfully, Barbara answered our call our for volunteers and has also written the first of a series of blogs for us sharing some of her vast experience.

She emphasises that every child is different so what works for one won't work for another, but is offering some "random" tips for parenting children with behaviour that challenges.

Title Image: 10 tips for parenting behaviour challenging.

Ten random tips for parenting when coping with behaviour that challenges

For my birthday, my youngest son, now an adult, gave me a book where I am asked to capture key memories, experiences and feelings. He has grown up with an elder brother who is different and has found it difficult. So when I came to the page that asks; “Is there anything that you would like to say sorry for,” I had to write; “for being unable to create a calm, contented home.” To my other son I would have to say, “for the times I got it wrong” But while he can now forgive me (I think!), and take great joy in teasing me about it, I still have restless nights going over such occasions.

However when I related this to a friend the other day, she said, "But what about all the times when you got it right?" So, in summary in no particular order, some quick things that I have learned;

1. Seek support and be compassionate to yourself

Don’t beat yourself up. Find people who understand and support you even if it is only through the internet.

2. Work as a team

If you are lucky enough to have a spouse/partner, work as a team even if you argue about it in private later. I must admit that it has taken my husband and I over 30 years to achieve this. I wish he had listened to me earlier!

3. Get organised in the holidays

Timetable activities during the school holidays. You cannot ever ever ‘go with the flow.’ If you weren’t a cub scout you will have to learn to Be Prepared now. Try anything and everything that is on offer and within your means. Something will click. In our case it was drama, scuba and the wonderful patient people of Games Workshop evenings.

4. Be alert and divert!

Be alert to warning signs and learn how to divert the challenging behaviour. For us, in the beginning, food like a crusty bread roll was a good diversion. Later on video games were a godsend. Look, we all need a break now and again. I know social skills are vital, but so is going to the loo on your own.

child getting own way
From Children in Control, Bernard Allen.

5. Soothe & diffuse

Know your child’s diffusers that help to calm them down. Ours was bath time. Not getting in or out. Just in the warm, soapy, water with toys and books. Anyone remember the cars that changed colour?! Thank you Hot Wheels.

6. Follow through and apologise

Be consistent and always follow through with what you say you will do. Don’t be a, ‘if you do it again’ parent, without any consequences. But if you got it wrong -  and we all do -  then at a quieter time, say so and apologise. Your child needs to know that sometimes even adults make wrong choices.

7. Remember who you are

You are going to groan at this one because I did. When my son was a few months old and I was finding out just how different he was, my health visitor (remember those?) asked me to run an Open University course on Early Years Parenting. ‘Are you mad?’ I replied. But she recognised that I needed my ego boosting and something else to think about. So do things that remind you that you are more than a frazzled shell of your former self.

8. Tip the scales with praise

Not only do you need your self-esteem stroking, but so does your child. Praise, praise, praise so that you can end the day with more "well done's" in the day than criticism. It can be done! Praise is a powerful tool.

9. Learn to fake it

Act in control, even when you don’t feel it. Children recognise when an adult is anxious, tense, nervous or edgy. They respond by becoming unsettled themselves and even more difficult to control. It becomes a vicious circle. Practice that firm voice, just like 'Supernanny', Jo Frost.

10. Stay on the path

Be a broken record repeat … repeat … repeat … and don’t let your child twist you around in knots by diverting you away from what you were initially trying to achieve. Children are really good at this tactic.

In further posts, I'll talk more about how to get really good at these things - and how to help the other children in the house and how they are affected.

Finally, food for thought;

‘Rather than try and change our kids to be like everyone else, we need to equip them to use their gifts and talents to help others.’ Kirk Martin, founder of Celebrate! ADHD

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Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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  • Thanks, wise words, very helpful.