Challenging Behavior in Children

By Carol Dimas, M.S.Ed.


To support children with challenging behavior, it is important to look at this behavior from the lens of communication. We all communicate through our behavior. A baby fusses when he is tired; an adult fidgets in a meeting when he is bored; an anxious teen refuses to come to the dinner table because she is trying to avoid questions about her failing grades in school. Children can often struggle communicating their needs, and their challenging behavior is sending us this message. 

In order to support children with challenging behaviors, we must switch our thinking from negative consequences to positive reinforcement. Do negative consequences work to eliminate behaviors? Well, in the case of an authentic consequence like touching the stove and getting burned, that will surely deter this behavior in the future. But when we are dealing with children with challenging behavior – especially in the school setting – it is crucial to find out what the child is really trying to communicate. 

Solving the problem with communication and positive support can serve to eliminate or replace the challenging behavior. Using a system that “punishes” the student does not get to the cause and can also serve to further increase the child’s low self-esteem. 

If a student does not finish his morning work, for example, and then they are told they cannot go out to recess, we have not solved the problem of what is getting in the way of work completion, and we have also publicly shamed the child in front of peers. 

If we decide that we will support children with difficult behaviors, rather than try to control them with punishment, we can truly make a difference and reduce or even replace the challenges with strategies. If we look at behavior as non-compliance, we are assuming the child has no underlying needs and that the behavior is simply willful. 

As Dr. Ross Greene says, “kids do well if they can” rather than “kids do well if they wanna”! 

If you want to learn more from Carol on this subject, join us on August 5th for a free webinar. Click here to learn more and sign up.

About the Author

Carol Dimas, M.S.Ed.

President/Founder of Educational Advocacy & Consulting

Carol Dimas, M.S.Ed. is the President/Founder of Educational Advocacy & Consulting.

Carol is an Illinois State-Certified Highly Qualified Teacher in Elementary Education and Special Education K-12. She is a Reading Specialist and Learning Behavior Specialist. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and a Masters of Science in Special Education.

During her twenty-five-plus years of experience in education, Carol began teaching children with special needs in the public school system. She helped pilot a program that involved a collaboration between the school district and Loyola University Department of Psychiatry to better serve culturally disadvantaged youth in the area of mental health. She was also the chair of the Special Education committee to develop a district-wide Positive Behavior Intervention Program.