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Managing Disruptive Behavior

Dear Debi,
Iím having a very difficult time with my 4-year-old. When he misbehaves, I bring it to his attention but often his behavior worsens. Heís even threatened to hit me! What can I do to get him to behave?
Marisol Ortiz,
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Time, persistence & consistency
  • Anticipate circumstances
  • Understand the reasons behind the behavior
  • Help modify your childís behavior
  • Contact your school district or R&R
Expert Advice
Mina Nguyen, Psy.D.
Mina Nguyen, Psy.D.
Clinical psychologist
Marisol should establish clearly defined rules and boundaries to manage that type of behavior. Marisol needs to find appropriate consequences for her sonís behavior. I would suggest taking things away like TV time or a game or toy the child really enjoys playing with. Marisol also needs to practice safe boundaries Ė doing safe therapy like holding the child at a distance. Putting her arms physically around the child so heís not aggressive.

When kids engage in disruptive behavior, the child is behaving that way just to seek attention. Thereís some type of reward they are seeking because of that behavior. To prevent disruptive behavior, itís really important for both parents and child care providers to set consistent rules and structure at home and at school. When thereís not consistent structure, thatís when the child becomes disruptive. For instance, make sure naps and meals occur during the same time every day.

With young children, I recommend parents and providers work hand-in-hand to make sure theyíre talking to each other consistently. If a parent is taking away a toy or removing a child from a disruptive situation, the child care provider should be too. If the child is unable to be managed, itís up to the parent to consult with someone. Maybe the child has a language problem or ADD. Maybe thereís something going on at home, such as a new move, a new sibling or a death in the family.

When managing disruptive behavior, itís important to take control of the situation right away. The adult should address the child right away. Let them know the behavior isnít appropriate. With younger kids, delayed disciplining is imperative. The parent needs to speak to the child and behavior right away. If the child is being disruptive, you might give the child a warning. You might give them a number of warnings. After the third try, let them know thereís no reading books tonight.

Itís very important for parents to understand the reasons for the childís disruptive behavior. Not every child has the verbal communication to say whatís going on in their lives. Some kids may have language delays or some kids may not be as vocal. They may not be able to say, ďIím in a bad mood because Johnny took my toy.Ē Parents need to recognize this by communicating with teachers and therapists.

Itsí also important for parents to recognize non-disruptive behavior. I encourage parents to find things to praise kids for. Provide frequent praise for good behavior. Itís important for child care providers and parents to stop, look and listen.
Child Care Provider Comments
Denise Hamilton
Denise Hamilton
Mother of 4-year-old
To prevent disruptive behavior, before we go anywhere, I tell my daughter what behavior is expected of her. I tell her, no yelling, no running and no whining. She must listen to Mommy. If she is misbehaving, I start by giving her a warning that if she continues we will leave. I have to make sure that I follow through with it, though. If I say we are going to leave and she misbehaves, then I have to do it no matter how difficult it is. I try to prevent outbursts by making it interesting for her when we are out, like having her help me shop for certain items. That way she feels like sheís participating and sheís entertained.
Rosa Rios
Rosa Rios
Grandmother of three
One thing Iíve learned from being a mother and now a grandma is that children are complex creatures that come with all of the emotions and feelings from the moment they are born. They sometimes donít act the way adults want them to, and we must understand them with patience. A child that behaves badly needs to be told that what he or she is doing is wrong. A child observes everything at home. If he or she sees something, theyíll imitate it. That explains why children can be violent and donít behave well Ė they see these things occurring at home. I talk to my little grandson with love and treat him with a lot of patience so I explain to him why I donít like him doing things that are bad.
Elizabeth Fox
Elizabeth Fox
Child care provider for 5 years
My first suggestion to Marisol would be to be consistent with her form of discipline. If you say that youíre going to do something, follow through with it. Another thing I would do if a child is misbehaving is to remove them from the negative situation. Try to redirect their attention. I believe in always trying to prevent misbehavior. So when a child is misbehaving there is a mental checklist to see what could be the root of the problem. Ask yourself: Is he hungry? Does he need to sleep? Why is he misbehaving? Is there a need that needs to be filled? Pay attention to making sure you are catching clues before they throw a tantrum and set clear expectations of acceptable behavior.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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