help with behaviour

Most parents will have times when they worry about their child’s behaviour or their own parenting. As people often say, kids don’t come with an instruction manual and this can feel doubly true if your child has additional needs.

Some of our children have conditions that make them more likely to have behaviour problems. Even needs that are not directly related to behaviour can have an impact; children that are struggling with learning or communicating will often express this by acting up. In fact this is sometimes the first clue there is a real problem. two boys having a pillow fightLots of parents will also experience other people criticising their parenting or judging them and their child because of their behaviour. This can be from those close to us, members of the public or even professionals we see about our child. We may find it hard to work out ourselves what is ‘normal’ bad behaviour and what is down to our child’s special needs.

Tips for dealing with behaviour issues
There are things that help with behaviour that are worth everyone trying. Here are our tips for getting to grips with this issue and getting more help if necessary.

Be realistic and be kind to yourself

  • Don’t waste energy blaming yourself. Put your energy into helping your child with their behaviour instead. If you are sure your child has additional needs don’t be fobbed off by people who tell you it is all down to your parenting. Keep looking for answers. But this is not a reason not to do everything you can to help your child with their behaviour too.
  • Be patient and persistent. The principles of good parenting are the same for all children: -love, attention, fun and discipline that is firm but fair. But making changes with behaviour can take longer when your child has additional needs. Be patient and persistent. Think about what is reasonable to expect at your child’s age and developmental stage. You may have to take small steps or focus on just one or two issues at a time. Act the part of the calm, in control parent even if you don’t feel like this on the inside. And remind yourself on the tough days that giving in to your child is not being kind, helping them learn and grow is kinder.
  • Try to have a sentence you can use to explain that your child has a disability or additional need, something like ‘I know his behaviour is unusual. It is part of his special needs’. This is particularly useful if your child has an invisible disability.
  • Ask for help! No-one should struggle on alone with behaviour and parenting worries. This is one area where it’s vital not to be embarrassed to ask others for ideas and support.

Remember the basics

  • Are they fed, watered and occupied? All children behave worse when they are hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable or tired and they can’t always tell us directly. Sometimes tricky behaviour may tell us other things too, for example that our child is anxious or scared or finds a task or situation difficult. If your child doesn’t communicate verbally you’ll need to be extra alert to this.
  • Keep them active. Some children behave much better if they get a bit more exercise. Activities that make your child feel successful or like they belong to something are worth their weight in gold. See the Leisure section for ideas on having fun and getting out and about. You may have to be prepared to keep trying things to find what works for your child but it’s worth it.
  • Plan ahead. Have things up your sleeve for problem moments like when the phone rings or waiting at the doctors. If you know they will find a situation tricky, make sure you have a snack and something to do. Can you plan a reward on the way home if they behave well? Lots of children find change (big and small) difficult. Think about how to warn them that a favourite activity must end or that their normal routine will be disrupted.

Make rules and be consistent

  • Be clear with your child about what they need to do to be ‘good’ in any situation. Think about how you tell them what to do. Are you clear? Keep instructions short and simple. Do you get close to them and get their attention? Give them enough time to take in what you say. Would a sign or picture help? Some children benefit from visual timetables.
  • Have some simple family rules that apply to everyone, parents included. It can help to put them positively, e.g. ‘speak nicely to each other’ rather than ‘no shouting’. Involve the whole family in choosing these rules. You could draw pictures or write them out together to stick them up in the house.
  • Reward the behaviour you want to see more of. This sounds obvious but often we ignore good behaviour and give lots of attention to the less good. Catch them getting things right and tell them so. Work out what your child finds rewarding and use that. This doesn’t mean a trip to Disneyland! It could be an extra bedtime story or their favourite DVD. Praise and attention are best for most children but some disabled children don’t respond strongly to these and need more concrete rewards.
  • React quickly, firmly and consistently to problem behaviour. Use consequences that you know you can and will follow through. It can work better to actually take away a toy for five minutes than threaten to take it for five days. Focus on the behaviour as the problem not the child and avoid saying things that are hurtful rather than helpful. Aim to use responses that help children learn to do better in future e.g. to calm themselves. Angry responses like shouting can seem to solve things in the short term but bring more problems in the long term. That’s why people may suggest to you ideas like reward charts and time out. These can really work and it helps to find out how to do them most effectively.
Getting support with behaviour
Support with behavioural issues can come via your child’s school or from more targeted services specifically for children who have more severe learning difficulties and disabilities. If a child or young person’s behaviour or wellbeing is affecting their ability to learn they may get support from school-based behaviour and attendance services.

In Brighton & Hove, support with behaviour and wellbeing in school comes via Brighton and Hove Inclusion Service’s Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) Team.

In East Sussex, support with behaviour and attendance in school comes via the Education Support, Behaviour and Attendance Service (ESBAS)

Children and young people with more severe learning disabilities and challenging behaviour may get support with emotional and behavioural issues from the CAMHS learning disability team in Brighton & Hove or the CAMHS learning disabilities and family intensive support service in East Sussex. They work closely with families and other professionals to try and get the best results from any intervention.

The Challenging Behaviour Foundation has lots of resources for families of children with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. They can support you directly via phone or email or link you with a trained family carer who has ‘been there’ before you. Find out more on the Challenging Behaviour Foundation website.

If your child is at a special school, you may be able to ask the school for advice. They have a lot of expertise in managing children’s behaviour and may run advice sessions for parents where they work to share this expertise.

Behaviour advice and resources
There’s lots of good general parenting advice out there that can be really useful. For younger children try your local Children’s Centre. Websites like Family Lives and Netmums have information and the chance to ask other parents for ideas. There are some great books on parenting and some about behaviour and specific needs such as ADHD or ASC. Try the library.

ParentChannel.TV is a website with a series of short videos you can watch online that cover parenting from toddlers to teens. Lots of parents have watched Super Nanny. Some of her approach is over-simplified to make it fit a TV programme, but again the website has more detail. Share ideas with your child’s school or pre-school about what works at home and at school. Find out who is best to ask. It could be the SENCO or class teacher or perhaps someone else in school such as a learning mentor. If you are in contact with family support services or community mental health workers try them for advice.

Parenting courses such as Triple P can help with behaviour and parenting. Nearly all the strategies covered by these courses will apply to your child even though they have additional needs. Stepping Stones is a Triple P parenting course run especially for parents of children with additional needs who are under the age of 11/12 and have a learning need also. Find out about parenting courses on offer locally.


I find I am treading a fine line. I feel awful that I was too hard on him when he was little because I didn’t know he had those extra needs and I thought he just wasn’t trying. But I don’t want to let him get away with things just because he has a label now. I’ve got to help him learn that some things aren’t OK. So every day I am picking my battles, pushing on some stuff but trying to be realistic and kind too. And then you have to try not to take it all personally of course.
Translate »