St Michaels Approach to Challenging Behavior


Handling challenging behaviors as a parent can be, well, challenging. It’s those boundary testing, limit-pushing, mischievous looks before an action to see what kind of cause and effect relationship a particular behavior might bring about. The approach outlined below is an excellent way to neutralize challenging behaviors whilst avoiding the dreaded power struggle. Taking this standardized approach can be difficult in moments of frustration, but each time we can be consistent in our reaction, we improve our chances that our children will make the more pro-social choice in the next circumstance. It is also important to remember that the best way to guide children’s action is through a strong relationship, which is first and foremost based on love, with mutual trust and respect as a foundation. Release the tension from your voice and body— address the situation calmly. In the end, what you’re looking for is SELF-REGULATION – not necessarily “good behavior” in the moment, but the desire to make prosocial choices as a whole, rather than in a case-by-case association with the avoidance of punishment, or in attempts to procure a direct reward.


1.       Put words to the circumstance – explain what’s going on, objectively:

“Oh, my friend, I can see that:

-your body came into contact with your friend’s face…”

-or, you’re interested in using your arm to throw right now..”

-or, your face looks like you’re feeling frustrated…”


2.       Validate their desire – give them a little credit for the best of intentions:

“I know that you:

-didn’t mean to hurt my friend Joe with your body…”

-wouldn’t want to break something delicate in the classroom…”

-want to use your words to explain what you need, like a big kid…”


3.       Explain why the action is troubling or not acceptable:

“It’s not safe for us to:

-swing our arms in the block area/run inside because we could hit a friend…”

-throw heavy objects inside because we could break a window…”

-or… I want to help you solve your problem, but I can’t help you unless you use words to explain what is making you frustrated…”


4.       Give a more socially acceptable option – or better yet, two options:

“I can’t let you do exactly that right now, but, you can choose:

-to go to the movement room, or to go outside if you want to use your body to move that way…”

-to throw a paper ball in the classroom, or to throw something heavy outside away from friends…”

-when you’re frustrated to ask for help from a teacher, or try to bargain with your friend…”


Challenging behaviors are often the manifestation of needs that are not being met in that moment for that child, and it’s incredibly important to remember that children’s intentions are usually naturally good. Children can often feel powerless, and a child’s life is FULL of moments where they have to relinquish their power to big people. Give them 10% of the power back by offering a controlled choice. Allow them to feel like they are making their own decisions. A small amount of controlled choice offered to a child, along with praise for good intentions, and a little positive language can go a long way towards reinforcing a child’s moral compass and establishing a pattern of positive choices.