Six Ways to Reduce Problem Behaviors in Children


If you have a child or student prone to behavior outbursts, you may feel desperate to find ways to stop the behavior or at least reduce the intensity.  Here are a few strategies that might work for you in the heat of the moment:

1. Ignore the behavior

Unless your child or student is doing something dangerous to himself or others it is a good idea to try to ignore the behavior first.  Most times a child acts out to get attention.  Remember, even negative attention is attention!  By talking about what your child is doing you may actually be reinforcing his or her behavior.  Try ignoring the behavior first.  If that doesn’t work consider one of the strategies below.

2. Redirect Attention

If your child or student is acting our physically or verbally, it is important to try redirecting him or her to something more appropriate.  Instead of focusing on the poor behavior, try to focus on what you want him or her to do next.

3. Decrease Demands

It may be that your child or student doesn’t know how to ask for help or express feelings of frustration appropriately so instead the child acts out.  Try lowering the demand you are placing on him or her and see if that helps.  If a task is too difficult it may need to be done in smaller steps in order for the child to feel successful.  It’s important to praise and celebrate each success along the way to build confidence.

4. Decrease Stimulation

Imagine yourself in a foreign country for a moment.  You don’t know the people or the language, how would you feel?  For many children, especially those with sensory processing disorders, the environment itself can cause your child to meltdown.  If the setting is too loud, too bright, too noisy, has too many people, or too much activity, it may simply be too over-stimulating for him or her.  Consider using an itouch or iphone with headphones to distract the child, take a walk outside or move your child to a quieter location.  This may help get you and your child successfully through a birthday party, family function, trip to the grocery store or restaurant.

5. Try a Calm Down Approach

It is extremely important for a child to learn to self regulate and calm down before behaviors escalate.  Try to teach him or her how to take deep breaths, fold his or her hands to avoid hitting someone, count to 10, go for a walk, etc.  You may need to try a variety of approaches until you find the one that works for your child.  One strategy I have seen used successfully is a “Calm Count”.  In the moment, when your child is distressed, be sure to firmly but calmly state your expectation, “I am going to count to ten and I want you to calm down”.  Start counting very slowly, “One, Two …” only count ahead if your child is showing signs of calming.  You should see the child calm down as your numbers increase.  Count faster as your child is calming down.  Once you get to “ten” your child should be able to take a few deep breaths and talk to you.  If the crying begins again, start your calm count again.

6. Prime, Prime, Prime.

Priming has been documented as an effective classroom intervention for children with behavior problems.  Priming consists of previewing information or activities in advance that you think your child is likely to have difficulties with.  For example, if your child has difficulties with sensory processing and you are planning on going to the movies with friends you may want to explain to your child well in advance that it will be dark inside the theater and the movie will be louder than the television at home.  If you are heading to a birthday party where there will a lot of children.  It may be helpful to talk to your child in advance about what he or she might see or hear there.  Explain that it will likely be very noisy and the kids may be running around.  If your child is a visual learner, is a great resource for showing examples of what can happen at different social functions such as weddings, birthday parties, school assemblies, airports, restaurants, etc.  If your child feels prepared he or she is less likely to act up in an unfamiliar situation.