Supporting children with behavioural difficulties: What parents can do


Raising a child with behavioural difficulties can sometimes be challenging for parents. Learning how to navigate the education system, new friendships and your child’s unique way of responding to the world can feel overwhelming if you don’t know how to help, or where to get support from.

In this article, we’re going to be discussing some of the ways you can help your child to adjust and communicate so they are able to feel more capable and autonomous as they grow up in society. There are many ways parents can support children with behavioural difficulties, so scroll below to find out how.

Opt for positive behaviour support

If your child has been diagnosed with autism, an intellectual disability, severe mental illness, or was involved in a traumatic event at an early age, they may interact with the world differently than most children. Whilst the goal is not specifically to change or fix your child’s differences, it is beneficial to help them find ways to live harmoniously in society, to set them up for adulthood. 

A positive behaviour support practitioner is a registered psychologist, therapist, or speech and language pathologist who specialises in reducing the risk of harmful behaviours, by working with them to improve their skills and enhance their independence. These services can be funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, My Aged Care, and privately, and they aim to provide sustainable outcomes through positive behavioural changes.

Seek alternative education

For children with autism, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and other neurodevelopmental disorders, traditional classroom set-ups may not bode well. Young pupils may be labelled disruptive, noisy, badly behaved or disengaged due to their different learning styles and ability to concentrate. In some cases, it is enough to speak with a senior staff member to arrange one-on-one learning support, or provide alternative teaching methods.

For parents of children with behavioural problems and developmental disabilities, traditional schools may present more challenges, and your child may benefit from attending a school designed specifically for students with extra learning needs, teaching them different but equally valuable skills. Also consider that in traditional schools, your child may be more prone to bullying – and although this is not your responsibility to prevent, it is a reality that’s worth considering.

Learn how to communicate with your child

It may be frustrating not being able to talk ‘normally’ with your child, or ask a question and not receive a straightford answer. Know that children who are linguistically diverse or non-speaking will still be able to communicate, albeit in different ways. They may find it equally frustrating if you are not able or willing to understand them.

You will spend more time with your child than anyone else, so take the time to demonstrate and read body language, hand gestures, signals and vocalisations that carry meaning. You will be surprised at how effectively you will be able to communicate with your child if you show them that you are making an effort to truly listen.

If your child is able to communicate with language, reassure them that it is ok to be different, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with them. Encourage them to speak openly with you, and share their feelings. This way, you will be able to better help and give them the support they need. However, it’s also important to appreciate that a child may know exactly how they feel and want to share it with you, but lack the vocabulary or self-awareness to do so. You can help by asking more direct ‘yes/no’ questions, and making it clear that there is no right or wrong answer.

Join local support groups

At times you may feel isolated in your challenges, especially if you are the only parent in your family or friend group with a child with behavioural difficulties. Find support and guidance in online and real-life networks of parents experiencing the same challenges as you.

Your child may find it easier to interact with children who are also neurodiverse or experiencing behavioural challenges, and you will be able to express your worries, frustrations and personal difficulties in the company of people who understand your experiences. Learn from and find support in each other, and remember that you are not alone.

Consider a support animal

Medical assistance and support animals are more than just a cute addition to the family – they can also be invaluable tools to help ease some pressure off you as a parent, whilst performing crucial medical tasks. For example, some dogs are able to sense and alert owners of oncoming epileptic seizures, whilst others can act as a soothing presence for children who are prone to aggressive outbursts, or who struggle to communicate with people.

Teaching your child to interact with a pet can also be a great way for them to learn about responsibility, teamwork and the needs and feelings of others around them. Bringing an animal into the home with a calm disposition may enable your child to feel more relaxed, and find comfort in company that does not expect them to behave a certain way.

Parenting is a challenge for everyone, one which comes with unique struggles and pressures for anyone raising a child. Supporting a child with behavioural difficulties requires extra attention and research, but hopefully after reading this article you will feel more capable of being the best parent you can be. 

Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and over time you will find the methods that work best for both of you – allowing you to enjoy the unique presence of your child and help them to become the best version of themselves, showing the world all they have to offer.

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