Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

By Sara Balghonaim

Recently, discussion on the CMN members’ e-list turned to the topic of dealing with difficult behaviors among the children in music sessions. Members exchanged ideas about how to deal with children’s behavior challenges – most people have been there! We found this useful article at the PBS-Parents Inclusive Communities web page.  Here are some highlights:

All child behavior is a form of communication.

Every child tries to communicate through a different behavior or a different choice of words. Sometimes it’s the parenting, and sometimes it’s the environment the child is in. The behavior is a sign that they are upset, uncomfortable, or anxious. They are too young to understand the adult rules of conveying a message.

There is always a reason for problem behavior.

Scared, hurt, endangered, tired, bored, sad, angry, lonely: these are all feelings that can stimulate bad or strange behavior. Sometimes children do not know how to describe the way they are feeling, and may not choose the correct words or behaviors. They act out because they are calling out for their needs. There is always a reason behind good or bad behavior. Take a step back and try to understand what exactly the child needs. The child could need more attention or could just be hungry.

 Adults can learn to understand and interpret children’s challenging behavior.

Adults should first evaluate the situation the child is in. Understand the child’s surroundings: what could be discomforting? After that, the adult can try to speak to the child, providing reliability and love. Children need to feel safe. Adults should also evaluate their own behavior; the problem could be coming from them. Children pick up on the messages adults create through their everyday behavior and actions.

Children’s challenging behavior can be reduced with support, not punishment.

When children feel that their needs have been met, or at least been recognized, there is no need to use a challenging behavior to communicate. Yelling and punishing may not stop the behavior but actually stimulate it. Anger might be what the adult is feeling, and it’s perfectly understandable in some situations. But when an adult yells at a child, the child may assume that anger is the way to solve a problem. When adults communicate firmly without yelling or other signs of anger, they are also teaching children how to deal with real life problems and social issues they face.

We recommend the PBS Parents site for all kinds of good ideas about inclusive communities.

Sara Balghonaim is a student at Simmons College and is an intern with CMN for the spring semester 2013.


  1. I agree Sara! I truly believe that there are no “bad” children, and no “bad” behavior. What there is from children with different needs is behavior that is calling out for help. Sometimes, in addition to the above suggestions, simply connecting with a child before or after class, letting them know that you see them and appreciate them, is enough to stem the disruptive behavior.
    Thanks for the link to the article!

  2. this is a well written , excellent piece about discipline problems. thank you Sara,. You are so right that this is an opportunity to teach our chldren how to express their feelings and grow in the process. I am totally impressed and I’ve been in education for 40 years!!

  3. I love this. You are so spot on! I raised two strong willed boys with not much headache by figuring out early on that logic to get me everywhere. My oldest, “gifted” and therefore a bit full of himself haha would come out with “But mom, you’re not making any sense!” I was always quick to answer “I don’t need to make sense. I’m feeling emotional. Emotional is the opposite of logic!” haha from that he learned to be more tolerant of other people’s passing emotions and also his own. I share this same perspective with my students and it always makes them laugh.
    You are so right. We need to respect emotions and honor them. Only then can we choose how to move ahead.

  4. A co-worker recently shared with me a quick way to remember children’s (and everyone’s) needs: Belong, Believe, Beloved. Each child wants to feel that they belong, that the teacher (adult) believes in them and that they are loved.

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