Strategies for Parents to Cope With Children’s Difficult Behavior

November 21, 2016
Younger hand holding an older person hand

Are you looking for ways to help a parent deal with a child’s difficult behaviors? If your professional experience is like mine, you know it can be tough for parents to deal with behaviors and still maintain meaningful relationships with their kids. Here’s what I’ve learned from 14 years in the mental health field. Parents I’ve worked with have found these tips helpful. I hope they help you and your clients and their children too.

First, parents, you are not alone!


  • There are other parents dealing with similar issues.
  • There is help out there.
  • Things can get better!

It’s important to know that there is a lot of support out there for families that are dealing with difficult behavior. There are lots of great online and in-person support networks for parents who deal with a range of issues such as ASD or mental illness.

Many communities have neighborhood collaboratives that offer parent mentoring, support groups, and other resources to help parents cope with problem behaviors and other issues. Try a Google search for “parenting support and [your city].” It’s also helpful to talk to friends, family, and other adults who can recommend supports.

For some families, having professionals in their lives can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. In some circumstances, you might feel like you don’t have control over the situation. I urge you to think of professionals as people who can support you as a parent. Look for community resources and professionals who are skilled at reinforcing positive parenting styles and techniques to empower you to improve your family’s communication and functioning.

More tips to help:

Spend one-on-one time.

One of the things I recommend is spending one-on-one time to help you understand your child’s triggers and what may help the situation. Identifying what makes a situation better (and what makes it worse) can help you and your child cope in a stressful moment. You can also share your ideas and observations with your child’s support team at school or in any environment.

Plan ahead.

You may be able to create an “emergency kit” of sorts, filled with items that can help calm your child down when they get upset. You can include a favorite book, a small photo album with family photos, sensory items such as Play-Doh, or a CD or playlist with your child’s favorite music. The kit should be something you can easily grab and take along for car rides, shopping trips, waiting rooms, etc.

Taking the time to relax and recharge is especially important when you’re dealing with your child’s difficult behaviors. If you don’t take time to relax, you won’t have the energy to tackle the problem. As busy as you are, there are simple things you can incorporate into your day that will help.

  • Eat well-balanced meals. This will not only fuel you with the right energy. It will model good eating habits for your child.
  • Get enough sleep. Build your energy reserves so you can handle stress when it blows up.
  • Use your own coping skills. What helps you when you’re stressed out? Practice it so that it’s second nature in the heat of the moment. This will also model resilience for your child.
  • Do something just for you. It’s OK! Making time for yourself will help you ward off stress, depression, anger, and resentment in the long run.

I know it’s not easy. Dealing with difficult behavior can be exhausting and upsetting. But try these simple strategies, because they may help. Use your resources, plan ahead, and take care of yourself.

About the author

Jennifer Loreman is a licensed professional counselor and program manager at a secure treatment center for adolescent girls in northeast Ohio.

Instructor resource

If you’re a Certified Instructor, have you tried the Sharing Strategies workbook? Log in to access this resource for giving parents and caregivers an overview of the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® strategies you teach—and for showing parents how to reinforce the care strategies at home.

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