Challenging Behaviors


Helping children learn to manage their behavior, while still expressing their emotions and getting their needs met, is one of the more daunting responsibilities of adults. You might have heard children described as having “challenging behavior” and wondered what this term actually means. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of “challenging behavior” among health and mental health professionals. However, challenging behaviors can be described as repeated patterns of behavior that interfere with a child’s ability to learn and be engaged in pro-social interactions. It might be helpful to think about whether a particular behavior is typical for children at a particular age or developmental stage. Although it is certainly challenging when a two year old responds to questions or requests with an emphatic “NO,” this behavior is typical and expected for a child of this age.

It is helpful to keep in mind that behavior is a way of communicating and ask “What is this child trying to tell me.” Is the concerning behavior new or an ongoing issue? Have there been any changes in the child’s life that might be contributing? Is the child lacking any knowledge or other skills that would help them better communicate their needs?

Don’t feel you have to solve this problem alone. If you are not sure whether a child’s behavior is cause for concern, you should talk with his parent(s), your co-workers and other professionals to determine what kind and what level of response is needed. Working together strategies can be identified for dealing with the behavior in a way that supports the child’s healthy development. Parents can be a powerful resource for understanding the child’s behavior. In addition, ECCLC has prepared a checklist to help parents and caregivers think about a child’s behavior and decide whether professional help might be useful.

If a professional assessment of the child’s behavior is needed, contact Children and Family Services at SummitStone Health Partners, 2001 S. Shields, Bldg K, Fort Collins, CO 80526 (970) 494-4200.

Other resources:

5 facts every family should know about behavior

Sharing Concerns with Parents: A 5-Step Guide for Early Childhood Professionals