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Dealing with difficult behaviour

Being a parent can be wonderful one minute – but draining and frustrating the next. Whether the kids are fighting over their toys, having a meltdown when they can’t wear pyjamas to school, or having huffs and puffs over homework, it can sometimes be a struggle to keep your cool.

We all have moments when our kids press our buttons - we all know losing your temper and reacting angrily doesn’t help, so what can we do? Check out our top tips for dealing with difficult behaviour here. 

Why is my child misbehaving?

All children misbehave at times – it’s just a normal part of growing up. As they get older, kids test out rules and boundaries.

How they misbehave is different for every child – your 4 year old may suddenly decide they won’t wear shoes to nursery. Your 8 year old may start “secretly” staying up later than their bedtime.

Sometimes we also forget that children don’t know the “unwritten” rules, so they may not even know they’re being naughty. They might not know that it’s OK to run around at home, but not at Granny’s house – so you need to spell it out for them.

What can I do when my child is starting to misbehave?

The way that you respond when your kid is acting up makes all the difference to whether they’re likely to do it again. Remember, you are the biggest influence on your child and the way you react in these situations is also helping them learn how to manage their emotions and shape their future behaviour.

Staying calm and being the one in control makes it easier for them to listen to you and take on board what you’re saying – and makes for a happier household. It can also help to listen to their point of view so you can sort it out if there’s been a misunderstanding. If you lose your temper, the situation can get out of hand quickly, and your child may be more likely to lash out later on.

There is also a new law in Scotland which means that from 7 November 2020 it will be illegal to use any form of physical punishment on your child. You can find more information on the new law here.

Top tips for dealing with difficult behaviour

What the parents say

"Whether it’s dinner time, or bed time – sometimes it all feels like an uphill battle. When it gets really bad, I’ll just let them have their little say, then leave the room for 5 minutes until I’ve calmed down. After I’ve had a bit of time to clear my head, I can even find it a bit funny when I need to help them go look for their socks for the umpteenth time.”

Sarah, Musselburgh

“It got to a point where I felt like I was just shouting at him all the time: “Do this, don’t do this, stop that”. I realised we never had any time where we just had fun together any more because I’d just been in survival mode. So I made a real effort every day to spend some time with him – reading a book at bed, or playing football in the park. I’ve found that he’s acting up less now. I feel less stressed and look forward to our “special time”. It’s also a bit easier to be patient with him when he’s having a strop. We can talk about it and have a cuddle afterwards”

Cathy, Edinburgh


“I thought we were way past the terrible 2s, but then Hannah started having these big tantrums again when she was 4. I just felt mortified and like everyone was judging me when we were out and about. I found that talking to other parents about how they dealt with it really helped. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and helped me to understand that it’s actually normal.”

Julia, Dalkeith


What the professionals say

“No matter how old your child is, it’s completely normal for them to misbehave at times. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong if your child is doing things like dragging their feet getting ready for school, or playing up before bed time – they’re just being a kid. It can be easier said than done, but it’s really important to learn ways to stop, breathe and stay calm when your child is misbehaving. If you need to, it’s OK to take 5 and come back to deal with your child when you’re in a better frame of mind”

Joanna Barrett, NSPCC Scotland



Further support

Remember that you’re not alone – all of us struggle from time to time. Talk to someone you trust, like a partner, friend, family member, health visitor or your GP. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know, you can also chat to Children 1st Parentline.

It is harder to stay calm if you are facing lots of pressures. You might be worried about other things, like health or finances. You can search for available support on the National Family Support Directory.

Being a parent is the best job in the world, but it can also be one of the most stressful. There will be days when it all feels a little too much. To help you manage the challenges ahead, Parent Club has some tips on coping with being a parent and keeping calm with your wee one so you can build a rewarding relationship together.

Animation of cartoon character frustration meter

Animation of cartoon character frustration meter

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Behaviour Behaviour tips Child (4-8 years)

Last updated: 7 Oct, 2021