Preventing Problem Behavior in Young Children and Dealing with it When It Does Happen

The most important way to teach appropriate behavior is by example; children learn what they live.  Children learn resourcefulness by learning to have self help skills, making appropriate decisions, and unstructured play.  Children learn respect when they are taught manners and kindness.  Children learn responsibility when they are moved along through developmental tasks and adults have appropriate expectations.  A parent’s attitude toward behavior is more important than techniques that might be used.

How do we know when behavior is a problem?

  • Continues for a long time and occurs frequently
  • Happens across settings: home, school, friends
  • Atypical for age of child
  • Gets in the way of learning new skills
  • Does not respond to teaching and discipline methods


  • Say no without giving too much of an explanation.
  • Teach children to give to charity by example.
  • Turn off the media; talk about ads children do see.
  • Teach children to prioritize.


  • Point out what the child is doing, say “Stop” (rolling eyes, back talk, getting into your face, being demanding)
  • Discontinue talking until the child stops
  • Monitor your own reactions
  • Recognize that when children say “I hate you” they mean I don’t like it when you tell me no (don’t take it personally)

Bathroom Words:

  • Common among preschoolers who are learning language and who are testing to see what reaction they will get.
  • “Those are bathroom words, go into the bathroom until you are finished saying them.”


  • “In this family, we don’t use those words.”
  • “When in doubt, don’t say it.” Offer substitute words.


  • A preschooler who does not separate fantasy from reality does not understand what a lie is. Ask, “Is that real or make believe?”
  • School aged children: “We expect honesty. Was that the right thing to do?” “Lying will get you in trouble and hurt people’s feelings.”


  • Make sure that you are not a whiner yourself!
  • “Stop! I will listen only to a big girl voice”.


  • Common for two-year-olds, but deal with firmly by holding chin and saying no, remove from area.
  • Focus on child who was bit, “I’m sorry that he hurt you. What can we do to help?”
  • Give appropriate things to bite on.
  • Label feelings and help child deal with those feelings.
  • Anticipate biting (usually when child wants something)
  • Model words to use.
  • Distract a toddler to a different activity.
  • Have speech evaluated if child is not starting to use words.



  • Monitor sleep, diet, and environment at home and school.
  • Increase outside play time.
  • Teach child to stop and think.
  • Use mistakes to teach appropriate behavior.

Not sharing:

  • Make a rule, “Make sure to take turns when you play, your friend goes first and then it is your turn.”
  • Catch your child sharing and let him know you noticed.

Temper Tantrums:

  • Monitor sleep, diet, and environment.
  • Reduce frustration due to developmental limitations.
  • Give children advance warning before changing activities.
  • Be aware of when child is most likely to have a tantrum.
  • Remain calm. Use breathing exercises.
  • Distract, remove, ignore…………..
  • Provide support, both emotionally and physically.
  • Teach children appropriate ways to express emotions.

Helping Children Learn Self-Control: a Guide to Discipline:

  • refer to the NAEYC brochure for information on preventing problems and basic techniques. Other consequences that may work are loss of privileges, apologies, and extra chores.

Where can parents get help? Much is offered free….

  • Call 2ll Info Line or go to
  • (will find information on Help Me Grow)
  • Child and Family Agency, 860-767-0147
  • Clinton Youth and Family Services, 669-1103
  • Early Childhood Consultation Partnership, 203-235-2815
  • Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, free screening, speech, OT,
  • PT, sensory, 860-388-5881, extension 1
  • Pathways Center: Learning, Behavioral Health, 860-767-1277
  • Pediatrician (will provide list of psychologists, social workers)
  • Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, 203-432-9993

Information compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman for Best Beginnings workshops

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