When Behavior is Getting Out of Control

behavior out control


After a long day at work or being home with the kids, having juggled the pieces of family life all day, the last thing you have the energy to deal with at the end of the day is a power struggle with your toddler or preschooler.

When 5 o’ clock rolls around you’re completely exhausted and who has the patience or willpower to battle the endless arguing and defiance over what to eat, how to behave, taking a bath, brushing teeth, or negotiating bedtime?

The reality is your kiddos are still figuring out how to navigate their world and family life. Their behavior speaks for them as they too find themselves tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry at the end of the day (or any time of the day for that matter) with little ability to identify or express their feelings in constructive ways.

When we accept that behavior is not random but rather is a form of communication it’s important we look at our role in dealing with children’s behavior differently.

What if you shifted your focus from yelling, threatening or punishing your child for their misconduct and looked rather at adapting the conditions at home so they can learn the skills they need to be successful?

As Alexander den Heijer, an inspirational speaker from the Netherlands writes, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

When faced with defiant behavior in our kids we need to look at the environment and discover why the misbehavior: Do they need more autonomy? Are they receiving enough attention? Are the expectations realistic and clear? Does your child need more structure and support? Is your parenting providing enough guidance?

All these factors may affect your child’s behavior and so it becomes necessary for us to take a critical look at our homes, our parenting, and the experiences we create for our children and how those might be contributing to their behavior.

We also need to shift the focus from punishment to support. We can’t punish kids for skills they may not have. Your kids need to be respected and feel appreciated and then it’s our job as parents to teach alternate behaviors.

There are many techniques to use with children who test limits, argue with directions, and typically do the exact opposite of what you’ve asked them to do.

What I’ve learned from my years coaching with parents is that children are active learners. Your kids learn best and will be more interested in listening and complying with you when you’ve built a nurturing and responsive home environment, when you have a strong connected relationship with them, and when their bodies and minds are actively engaged in the learning process.

One of the more effective ways to parent responsively and with connection, getting your child engaged and cooperating with you, is to act as the narrator of your child’s life - naming what your child is doing, saying, feeling, experiencing, and providing them with on-going dialogue. “You’re picking that up and putting it in the box. Oh, it doesn’t fit in the box and that makes you angry. Now you’re trying to find a new way to get it into the box and you did it! Now you’re proud of yourself!


Children will respond differently to your narrating. Allow time for your child to respond however they find appropriate. Your child may take time to clarify your misunderstanding of the situation and provide more clarity and information, or they may simply nod in agreement, or not respond at all. All these responses are okay.

You can respond to misunderstandings by clarifying any new information that your child has provided (“Oh, so the baby isn’t sad, she’s mad because I’m sitting on her toy”) and then continue with narrating your child’s experiences.

If your child is working through a challenge, problem or question and appears stuck, say, “I wonder what would happen if...” and then provide a tiny possible solution to the question or problem. (“Hmm...that block won’t fit in the box like that. I wonder what would happen if you tried another hole”). When your child solves the problem, provide a summary of what your child did to solve the problem and acknowledges their success.

Narrating situations with your child provides an alternative to arguing with them about what they  should do and why they should do it.

An ongoing dialogue allows you to take a less conflicted stance to help your child figure out what the right decision is and why it’s the right decision, giving them experience with autonomy and problem solving.

This technique is great to use when tensions are high and you’re trying to stop a behavior or when tensions are low and you’re having fun together. This approach also works well when your child is frustrated or if they’re trying to solve a problem or are facing a challenge.

In the first few years of life your kiddos are called upon to master an enormous number of skills. They learn to walk, talk, and communicate in a way that others can understand. They’re learning so much cognitively (colors, numbers, letters, shapes and other things we deem important), and socially they learn the skills they need to play together with others.

Learning to listen and cooperate and be a functioning member of your family should be viewed as one of the plethora of early childhood skills your child needs to learn, practice and master.

Changing patterns of behavior is hard and it can be confusing and challenging to try new things. It’s also easy to give up when something new doesn’t work out and then to come up with plenty of excuses about why it doesn’t work.

I need you to know support is always available. If you relate to any of this information and want to learn more about how I can help you, or if you want to schedule a free phone conversation to see if my coaching is right for your family, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Heart of Connecting

My work is dedicated to supporting parents and early childhood educators in understanding and reducing challenging behavior in young children at home and in the preschool classroom.

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