Difficult Child Behavior: Where Do You Begin?

Posted October 7, 2015 by

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Every day you find time to get the kids off to school, go to work, spend time with family…not to mention the necessities, like making meals or paying bills.

Phew…you’re doing a lot! Add difficult child behavior to the mix, and it can feel like you’re walking around with boulders on your shoulders.

Parents are great at multitasking, but child behavior issues can be overwhelming. If you’re dealing with multiple bad behaviors, how do you know where to begin?

Parents often feel like they have to solve every issue right now. It’s understandable — you see a lot of things that concern you, and they’re all equally important.

The truth is, trying to tackle everything at once will likely leave you feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or defeated. Spreading yourself too thin also affects stress levels, which can impact how you react to your child’s behavior.

It’s okay to admit you’re doing a lot — you are! At the same time, you’re only human. Relief starts by giving yourself permission to say you’re overwhelmed. Next, choose one behavior you want to change, and start there.

For help with knowing which behavior to start with, check out “My Child’s Behavior Is So Bad, Where Do I Begin?” How to Coach Your Child Forward.

Remember, we’re here to help support and guide you. Let us know in the comments how things are going!


Darlene B., Empowering Parents Coach
Learn more about 1-on-1 Coaching

“My experience is that if you want to change everything at once, you’re going to be very disappointed. Not only is that an impossible task; you’re going to alienate your child.” – James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation


Darlene Beaulieu is a parent to two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 16. She has been an Empowering Parents Coach since 2009 and has helped thousands of families in that time. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling and has worked in school and community settings helping children and families with academic, social, and behavioral issues.

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  1. Chelsea Quirk Report

    My ODD/ADHD 12 yr old boy is barely meeting his compliance and social skill IEP goals.  I feel it would improve with removal of his Xbox, because limiting his time causes daily problems.  Complaints, daily, nightly, whining, negotiating… Removal of the Xbox caused post-traumatic type of reaction, as he has become anti-social outside the home, and absolutely worries sick over trips or seeing family — so his social life consists of Xbox live “friends.”  3 friends ARE from his schools, but his persistence is exhausting and stressing his brother out so much, to the point of hatred and physical illness.  I personally have NO SOCIAL LIFE.  I’ve considered going out a couple hours at a time, but I already work fulltime 45 minutes from the home.  I don’t want to attempt to maintain relationships with people, NO one understand the ODD/ADHD combination. 

    People say “take the Xbox away,” “Sell the Xbox,” etc.  As if it is so easy.  His estranged father just contacted him for the first time since hitting and kicking him out 3 months ago…if I take it away, dad will give him his back at his house.  It will defeat the purpose of helping the child be successful.  I don’t know if I can continue taking care of myself and battling with the dad anymore.  There is ZERO coparenting — it is more like defyparenting.

    So tired and apprehensive of the teen years, if I cannot make this work for us all.

  2. Kiasoul Report

    My three year old who has speech delay has recently started school 5 weeks ago and has been exhibiting “bad” behaviour, for example, hitting, pushing, biting (once) other kids. He has a three month old baby sister and has been struggling with a little less attention that he’s been given since she was born. I am concerned about this and has gone to his paediatrician who mentioned that he may be having temper tantrums and anxiety over adjusting to a new baby sister and starting school. He has had good behaviour for three days straight this week. I feel like that the only way he can express his frustration and anger is through hitting (which I don’t condone ofcourse) because he cannot vocalize his wants or needs clearly. Has anyone had any experience with this?

  3. Veronica Shooker Report

    My daughter treats me like butt. All she does is roll her eyes and sass at me and she tries to defend it by telling me she is “in a mood”… but I am sick of it! I can’t deal with the disrespect and neither can her friends. It is sickening. SOS!

    • LadyTruth Report

      Try grasping control again by giving her consequences for exhibiting disrespectful behavior … like taking away privileges.

  4. Arsalan Wahid Report

    I also need some articles on domestic violence issue, however this article have helped me out to understand the very beginning of the dv.

  5. M Report


    First of all, it sounds like you are very caring and devoted to your family, and yes, overwhelmed. And then it sounds like you could use some “you time”. Why not get the grandchildren and son to do some of the work around the house?  Although they may complain a bit at first, having some responsibilities would boost their self esteem, distract them from negative behavior, and free up some of your time to spend rejuvenating your soul. After all, you won’t be able to take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself.

  6. Lily02 Report

    Hello, this is my 1st time here. SIGHHHHHH….. Where to start. My 2 grand childern 7 and 9 live me, I am helping my daughter  whle she gets on her feet in a new state, her job offered her a great opportunity and I offered to take of my grand childern while she got settled. It seems like we cant go 1 day without them arguing with eachoher and myself. My grandson who is 7 and in the 2nd grade acts up quite a bit in school and on the school bus. And we recently let my 26 year old son move back in, and I found out 2 days ago that he was relapsed… (meth).  I feel so overwhelmed, if Im not working, Im cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, playing referee, and when I finally get a moment to myself I find all I do is cry.

  7. Frustrated single mum Report

    Thank you for this post!
    This is exactly the material i needed to read and explore this morning. Especially to know i am not alone after my morning of chaos prior to school. It was then hard to then send my little 7 year girl to school as the reflection within dealing so poorly with the mad, chaotic, destructive morning of talking which turned into yelling (and honestly seems to a pattern). Me repeating, have your breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair, out your shoes on, Help me pack your school bag etc… i just lost it this morning out of pure frustration at the lack of response and her time wasting making me late for work, her late to school and tears from both ends….
    One change at a time… what is this you suggest??
    Am i expecting too much??

  8. ABKrwa Report

    I am so thankful to have found empowering parents.com. I have been able to recognize where my parenting flaws have actually hindered my goals as a parent and it has given me great insight into how to better handle each of my children. Thank you so much for the practical advice and education you are providing. It has been a tremendous help!

  9. Karen Report

    An older guy told me to grab the bible and show my daughter that God doesn’t approve lying and it’s my job to enforce it. I made my child write bible sciptures on lying and disobedience, the had her read it back to me, we discuss it, then I would enforce her punishment. I’ve also turned it around. I ask her how would she feel if I told her we were going to all her favorite places, then told her I was lying. How would she feel?. Just keep talking to your 12 year old, giving life examples of how negatively people view liers.

  10. Saisabi Report

    My 7 year daughter is very slow, giving up every thing very easily and looks like frustrated all the time and lacks concentration. I tried to improve her slowness with a reward chart but it didn’t work. What can I do to improve her these kind of behaviour?

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You ask a great question. Sometimes kids do give up easily when
      faced with tasks or situations they find challenging. One thing we have found
      to be productive is having aproblem
      solving conversation with your child during which you talk about ways she can
      stay on task and follow through, even on hard tasks. You can find out more
      information on how to have a problem solving conversation in Sara Bean’s
      article http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-reason-for-bad-child-behavior.php#ixzz3oey62ROR.
      I hope this information is useful for your situation. Be sure to check back if
      you have any further questions. Take care.

    • KarenTheBrainBuilder Report

      Saisabi Short term rewards might hep.  If she’s focused for 15 mins, then she gets 5 M&Ms.  Also, she might just be one of those slow kids with low self-esteem who needs extra time to complete things.  I have  13 year old daughter with these traits.  Not sure if you’re willing to try essential oils that help with focusing.  But, often times, not knowing time management skills (especially at such a young age) is not uncommon.  Be sure to  shower her with positive praise every time she completes a task.  Remind her that there is nothing wrong with taking her time.  Once she stops feeling frustrated, her self-esteem will start improving and with maturity, you’ll see a natural progress.  Don’t give up.  Don’t  futurize how you feel she may end up in the future.  It’s been a continuous struggle with my daughter who is exactly like your little girl.  She earns A’s and B’s, but always fears she will fail, that she’s the only one who doesn’t understand….our girls are such natural pessimists and just need our unconditional love and faith!

  11. Annabella40 Report

    I’m reading this article and is as if you are reading my feelings. Where to start? Well lets start with the bad news received today that my 16 year old escaped a group home he was at, him and two other boys stole a car a cell phone and my son put a knife to the directors throat to steal the car keys. I don’t know his whereabouts and are extremely worried..,
    Then my 15 year old girl is having issues with depression, has been drinking behind my back and needs lots of attention.
    Then I have 12 year old girl who is disobedient in all ways.
    I have a 7 year old boy who is a sweet heart and wishes I pay more attention to him.
    I am dealing with a separation issue as well.
    What to focus on first?????
    Feeling desperate.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      You certainly do have a lot on your plate right now. I can
      only imagine how stressful your current situation must be. I hope you have a
      strong support network to help you manage all that is going on. If not, it may
      be helpful to find out what types of resources are available in your area for
      families who are facing tough challenges. The 211 Helpline can give you
      information on services and supports in your community, such as parent support
      groups, family counseling, respite care and other community outreach programs.
      You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by
      visiting them online at http://www.211.org/. We
      appreciate you writing in and sharing your story. Be sure to check back and let
      us know how things are going. Take care.

    • drdorrie Report

      Annabella40 I really found your post very authentic. I have two teenagers with ADD and my son has Aspergers. It is very hard to find others who allow themselves to be real and honest about their feelings. I have a daughter who is very impersonal and has smoked pot. One week she is a lesbian. I am disabled and divorced. I have systemic polyarthritis which has riddled me with pain. I was a school psychologist for 15 years. I had to give up my practice,
      and stay home. When I stopped working, my ex-husband was furious. He stopped paying mortgage, so the judged evicted me from the house. My husband got an apartment and took my kids.
      The last five years have been tough. I almost lost my leg and my life to a bone infection. I went into shock during surgery and I really could not walk and had a brace on for 6 months.
      My life is very stressful, it is better than it used to be! I see that I can not make everything better. My brother got lung cancer in 2014. I had to walk to be able to see him as I recovered he died. I learned that I am a fighter and very resilient. My whole life I felt I had to prove that I was equal to my older successful
      I had to focus on capabilities and not be ashamed. Do not suffer in silence and get help for yourself and kids. I have had my kids in therapy and it saved all our lives more than once. Low cost programs are available.
      National Association of School Psychologists Nasp.org has great resources.
      Do not suffer in silence!

  12. Amanda05777 Report

    I have been a single mom for 12 years raising my children. God has recently brought an amazing man into my life. We are courting and planing for marriage. My 14 yr old daughter is starting to be disrespectful to me and my fiancé. When me and him are talking on the phone or spending time togather in person she keeps calling for me and gets very rude if I don’t come to her right away. It cause an issue between me and my fiancé because he feels like I am pulled away from him every time we spend time togather? I want him to feel loved and not pushed away. I also want my daughter to feel loved aswell but she needs to understand it’s not just Moma anymore? ?????

  13. ManifestHealing Report

    First question is why is the child lying? To feel better about themself or have someone else feel better about them. What and listen for clues. Never try and catch a child in a lie. Try and create a sacred space for time for unconditional love child driven time. The child says what they want you to do together. Then follow their lead. What ever the was can be brought up later or you could play a game called if anything could be true I would want it to be. Then child gives examples and adult gives examples. Talk about what lying is and what it means to you to not be trusted enough to hear the truth. The consequences may be to harsh. When they soften often the child will say no that wasn’t true. I was a wish.???

  14. Jteck52 Report

    I’m a single father with my 14yr old son that lives with me full time and my 12 yr old son that lives with me part time,  just solving one problem at a time is tough,  they have very different personalities and no real help from there mother, this makes solving problems for me tough,  I  want to treat them the same hen there is a problem,  but I  think that they lose something when I do this , I think a more individual plan works better,  see, I’m not gonna stop and pat myself on the back and say that I did the right thing , I’m gonna just stay up some nights and wonder if I did. The good news is that I love them very much and somehow it’s  working

  15. gihan gendy Report

    My kid always is smart but lazy. She always need a different motive to do things she has to do every day like changing clothes, brushing her teeth, study her homeworks. When I turn crazy and shout or she does what she has to do on spot.
    I don’t like shouting at her but I turned tired to find different motives to let her work.

  16. khernandez Report

    There are times that focusing on my 12 year old and the lies that he tells overcome the possible time that we could use to spend time together. It gets overwhelming. Any advice as to how to help my 12 year old realize that the lies he tells are effecting his life? School, relationships, character?

    • Empowering Parents Coach Marissa Stephens, 1-on-1 Coach Report


      Lying can be a frustrating behavior, and is often a faulty
      problem solving tool kids use to get out of trouble or get out of doing
      something they don’t want to do. When you catch your son in a lie, we recommend
      not getting in a power struggle over why, but rather, what problem was he
      trying to solve, and what can he do different next time. You can also hold him
      accountable with a small, standard consequence, such as loss of video game time
      for 24 hours, each time you catch him in a lie. Good luck to you and your
      family as you continue to work on this.

    • Kim Report

      Some children have a great need for control and lies can be a part of their strategy to gain more control. If you offer choice in small things, the act of choosing can give the child a greater sense of control. An example might be, saying, “tonight I want to spend 15 minutes with you, would you like to talk , listen to music, or play a game. Do not base time together on “good behavior” rather on building a better relationship. You will not be rewarding bad behavior but will be promoting quality time and some control! At first the child may choose activities that are less interactive, as time and trust increase the level of interaction will change. You choose the time allowed and the choice of activities. Never leave the boundaries unclear. What children want is attention and love. Sometimes they have difficulty finding a positive way to get that attention. Best wishes for a great new adventure in raising kids. Never a dull moment! Kim

    • Chamon Report

      While I am no professional of child psychology, I do have a Bachelors in psychology and sociology, in addition, I am a parent of four. Honesty is a huge factor in the development of relationships in and outside the family. We certainly had our bout of lies and why it is so crucial for us to be able to trust one another. At different ages kids lie, or see things different for various reasons. At age 12, there is a cognitive change that is occurring in addition to puberty and the development of their autonomy. I would have a personal discussion with them as individuals. Don’t make the discussion judgmental or interagative, after all they have an esteem to protect. Make the discussion at an unexpected time, perhaps at dinner or a walk together. Try to focus on the positive and how much you enjoy spending personal time with them. How you value their relationship. Young individuals like to feel smart and often like to fix things. Give them a hypothetical work situation, I have plenty of friends that have children to use as examples. You can always start the conversation out as I have a friend whose daughter ……let your child be able to see themself through someone else, of course without sounding too obvious that you are also referencing them. Young people are often on defense as they are on center stage. When your young one lies, find out why. Maybe they didn’t see it as a lie, express how the situation made you feel and why honesty is so important to you. Lastly, there has to be forgiveness and the ability to trust again. Sometimes natural consequences come into play. Some times when living with a mental illness lying can be reflective in some disorders. Naturally, these are simply some Ideas and ways we have dealt with lies.

    • becca0617 Report

      @khernandez I’m having the exact same issue with my 12 year old. Feel like I’ve tried every kind of punishment and he is grounded right now for a month cause of lying which he does over and over about everything! Wish I knew what to tell you but I can at least tell you you aren’t alone!

    • Joellenemm Report

      Hi K. Right now I have no real answer because my 17 has been lying for a while. It is very frustrating. Just keep trying new things and each time explain calmly that you love him and lying is not acceptable and explain your reasoning. I think that I stopped doing that at some point and my frustration kept going up. Good luck and don’t give up.



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