Be clear about expectations and instructions: Even if the speaker feels the child “should” know what is expected, it is better to repeat the instruction because if children are unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, they’re more likely to get anxious or misbehave.

Keep language simple and to a minimum. Tell children important instructions face-to-face and use their name at the beginning so they know the instructions are for them. Avoid yelling from a distance!

Give your child some time to process what has been asked before expecting an answer or action!

Delivering a long series of questions or instructions to children limits the likelihood that they will hear them, answer your questions, remember the tasks or do what they’ve been instructed to do.

Useful phrases when making requests/giving instructions ( to avoid the reply ‘no!’): ‘When you’re ready …’, ‘I wonder if we can….’ ,  ‘Let’s see if we can make something’,    ‘I can’t see how to make this work..’,   ‘Shall we see how to beat the clock?’ ,  ‘Bet I can get my coat on before you!’ ,  ‘Can you show me……..’ ,  ‘Maybe we could investigate…’   ‘It would be really helpful if you could…’    Using the ‘when… then’ philosophy; ‘When you have done your homework then you can play on your I-Pad’

Give positive reinforcement and more attention to behaviour you want to encourage.

Give choice- but not too much. Give a structured choice of say 2 things, so the child still feels in control, but does what is asked e.g.  ‘Do you want to take a shower after dinner or before?” 

Children will struggle to understand the blanket terms: ‘Behave yourself’ or ‘Be good for your Mum’ or ‘You are naughty’. Be explicit about what ‘good behaviour’ is being referred to. For example, ‘Well done for getting dressed, when I asked you ‘, rather than ‘You were good this morning’.  Be explicit about what ‘bad behaviour’ is being referred to. Try not to say ‘You are naughty!’ because what does naughty mean? Instead comment on the actual behaviour ‘It is not acceptable to shout at me.


Try to ignore minor mis-demeanours.

Try to give a prior warning when you want your child to stop playing to do something else. This gives your child the chance to find a good stopping place for an activity and makes the transition less fraught. Try giving a ‘countdown’ warning of say 10 minutes before expecting your child to come to the dinner table or get ready to go out, then give a reminder just before.

It’s not uncommon for children who have trouble handling their emotions to lose control and direct their, sometimes violent, distress at others. It can be a scary, stressful experience for all concerned.

Distraction can work to prevent an outburst from escalating.

Children often feel sorry after they’ve worn themselves out and calmed down. Praise a child when they have calmed down and when he/she does try to express their feelings verbally.

It is important to wait for a child to calm down before trying to discuss what has happened and the best ways of staying calm and what to do if he/she begins to feel angry or upset; firing all sorts of questions at a distressed child will likely exacerbate and prolong the situation.

It is useful to have an identified ‘quiet space/ chill space’ for children to go to when they want/need to be alone or when they need to calm down.


Rewards should be linked to specific behaviours, achievable and always delivered consistently.

Rewards don’t need to cost money – often the chance of having a parent’s undivided attention, to play or spend time with a child, is reward enough!