For anyone who works with young children, you're likely all too familiar with managing difficult behaviors.  Helping children manage their behaviors starts with an understanding of why children behave as they do.

Challenging behaviors that can occur as a result of negative traits are slandering, hitting, biting, yelling, tardiness, boasting, complaining, interrupting, rushing, cussing, arguing, anxiousness, stealing, cheating, uncooperative, indecent and offensive gesturing. While these traits and behaviors can become consistent with certain children, they can also be minimized with consistent behavior management practices.

The art of managing challenging behavior can be referred to as discipline. For the purpose of this course the term discipline is defined as the practice of teaching and training children to obey rules and other codes of behavior that create a nice and safe environment.

A few examples of situations that warrant disciplinary procedures include:

  • Hitting, pushing or any physically aggressive acts towards staff and other children
  • Being rude by saying mean things and expressing too much negativity
  • Throwing, mistreating or destroying classroom objects
  • Not taking turns or sharing toys that don’t belong to them
  • Taking things from others without asking
  • Making rude or obscene gestures
  • Yelling and screaming


The cause of a 3-6-year-old child’s challenging behavior can be less important than how you treat it in any given moment. However, your awareness and acceptance of each individual situation can help guide you towards more appropriate disciplinary actions.  The emphasis of this course is to focus on the treatment of the children as challenging behaviors appear.

Gaining and maintaining total awareness of all factors involved, accepting only the realities of each situation, and acting with grace, strength and sensibility, are the most effective strategies for creating safe and considerate behavior in the present moment.

Some of the most common factors that can contribute to the creation of challenging behaviors in children involve disabilities, disorders, diseases, parenting styles, environments and artificial stimulants


Disabilities and Disorders

Following are descriptions of some of the most common disabilities and disorders that will affect behavior in children. They are listed for the purpose of expanding your awareness and acceptance only.

Sensory processing disorder (SPD, also known as sensory integration dysfunction) is a condition that exists when multisensory integration is not adequately processed to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, often resulting in challenges with social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Cerebral palsy is a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination (spastic paralysis) and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth.

Down syndrome is a congenital disorder arising from a chromosome defect, causing intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities including short stature and a broad facial profile.

Disruptive behavior disorders include two similar disorders: oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD). Common symptoms occurring in children with these disorders include: defiance of authority figures, angry outbursts, and other antisocial behaviors such as lying and stealing.

ADHD is a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity.

Child psychology experts from the University of Oxford and University of Pittsburgh say that the term “disorder” should be used cautiously for children up to 5 years old and question its validity. Professors Frances Gardner and Daniel S. Shaw say the evidence is limited that problems in preschool indicate problems later in life, or that behavioral issues are evidence of a true disorder. “There are concerns about distinguishing normal from abnormal behavior in this period of rapid developmental change,” they wrote.

Raising children is difficult and raising difficult children can be life disrupting. But being able to tell whether a child is just going through a stage, or if something is really wrong isn’t always that easy. A tantrum doesn’t automatically mean that a 2-year-old has a problem with authority, and a kindergartner who doesn’t want to sit still doesn’t necessarily have an attention disorder. When it comes to understanding our children’s behavior, experts say diagnoses and labels should be kept to a minimum in the early childhood years.


Parenting Styles

An important, yet at times difficult aspect of a child’s behavior that must be tolerated and completely accepted is parenting styles. At times you can offer parents evaluations and observations; however, their particular parenting style is generally an aspect of a child’s behavior that is beyond a teacher’s or caregiver’s control.

For your awareness, the four most common parenting styles are:

Authoritarian – Strict rules, with no compromise, and no input from the children.

Authoritative – Strict rules, but parents are willing to listen and cooperate with their children. More of a democracy than authoritarian parenting.     

Permissive Parenting – Few rules, and few demands put on children. There is little to no discipline in this home and parents typically take on the role of friend.

Uninvolved parenting – No rules and very little interaction. These parents are detached and may reject or neglect their children.

Sometimes you can have a situation where the parents have different styles and often argue over which one is best. Whatever their style is, you must accept that part of their child’s reality and do your best to deal with a child’s challenging behavior in the moment it occurs.


Environmental Factors

A challenging environment will create challenging behavior in children. These types of factors involve situations where drugs, alcohol, crime, mental illness, poverty, neglect, marital problems, immigrations issues and other uncomfortable factors that exist in a child’s home life. Identifying cause in a child’s environment can possibly get you overly involved in an aspect of the child’s behavior that you can have no control over. It can also create negative ramifications if you do get too involved and base your information on generalizations and assumptions.

However, child abuse is a topic that is the business of your program’s and state’s child welfare policies and should be dealt with according to those rules and regulations.

The reality is:

      if a child experiences consistent hostility, they may learn to be hostile to others 

      if a child experiences consistent fear they, they may learn to fear others

      if a child experiences consistent abuse, they may learn to abuse themselves or others


That’s how some humans become conditioned with certain behaviors.

Keep in mind, you are not responsible for what happens in a child’s home environment. You can, however, learn to help a child manage their behaviors.

Sometimes the best you can do is to provide them a safe harbor where they can experience the care they deserve.  Keep your eyes and ears open as you continue to expand your awareness but keep your assumptions and generalizations to yourself until they can become proven facts and realities. At the same time, be alert to the reality that you may have to hear many generalizations and assumptions that may not necessarily represent reality.


Artificial Stimulants

It is not uncommon to have to deal with children who are under the influence of prescribed or over the counter medications that contain stimulants. Natural stimulants such as caffeine, excessive vitamins and other natural herbs and homeopathic substances can also provide over stimulation and have negative affects on children’s behavior. Some of the signs that appear with artificial stimulation include large or dilated pupils, constant teeth grinding, rapid eye movement, excessive talking, constant mood swings, extreme restlessness, headaches, stomach aches and inability to focus for more than a few seconds at a time.

It helps to have parents or guardians to inform you whether their children drink caffeinated beverages or are taking immunity boosters, prescribed or over the counter medications, natural herbs or homeopathic remedies that could be over-stimulating the child. Their challenging behavior can be very difficult to deal with because the children truly can’t listen, focus or control themselves.


Watch this video on Managing Challenging Behaviors in Children


To learn more about how to manage children's behavior, try our online Behavior Managment child care classes:

Basic Behavior Management

Managing Challenging Behaviors

Preschool Fitness Ten - Behavior Management

Strategies for Working with Special Needs

Teaching Children Good Habits


Writing Good Rule Lists


We Care, Because You Do!