Finding support when your child has behavioural issues

If you have a child with challenging behaviour, you are not alone. There are many reasons disabled children exhibit challenging behaviour, and there are often complex reasons behind a child’s behaviour.

In many ways, parents of disabled children lead similar lives to parents of non-disabled children, but the differences can be a source of increased mental distress and exhaustion for parents [1] [2]. When our children have behaviours that challenge us, we have to learn to think outside the box in ways most parents don’t have to contemplate. You may feel under a lot of pressure. The feeling of being to blame, worry about not parenting well, and the feat that others think you are a bad parent are all too common. Parents can feel very alone and it can be a relief to discover that other parents are facing the same issues.

If your child has behavioural issues, you are probably investing a lot of energy trying to keep things under control. This requires great organisation skills, and you may be left feeling that you don’t have the time to get everything done [3] [4].

This lack of time and energy can get in the way of your relationship with your partner, [5] [6], so it’s important to make sure you have adequate support in place to help you manage your child’s behavioural issues – not just for your child, but for your whole family.

Talk to your partner


Talk to your partner about what you’re going through, and the support you’d like to have. If one of you works and the other takes on the main caring duties, you may each feel that the other doesn’t understand what you’re dealing with every day. You may be able to give each other a few new ideas about how to ease the pressure. Or, it may help just to be able to talk about your day.

Keep a journal


While your child’s behavioural issues might be a result of their condition, there could be social factors at play too [7]. Try keeping a journal of your child’s behaviour and the social situations that surround it. Are there certain times of day, or certain groups of people that make things better or worse? Look for the links between your child’s social interactions and their behaviour so you can identify risk factors and make plans. 

Beef up your parenting skills


Studies have shown that working on your parenting skills can make things easier for you [7]. Some parenting courses are free but you may have to pay a fee, depending on the provider. Search online for courses in your area, or contact your local Children’s Centre or council to ask what’s available. 

Get help from other family members


Parents who have support from their extended families tend to cope better [8]. One of the toughest things for parents of children with behavioural issues is the sense of social isolation – speak to friends and family members and let them know that you would benefit from their support.

Spend time with other parents


One of the greatest sources of support for parents of children with behavioural issues is other parents in similar situations. Seek out other parents in your community, perhaps through your child’s support networks or school. This might feel like something you don’t have time for, but it could deliver its own reward, as community support helps break down your sense of isolation [7]. Being among other parents can also help you decompress by talking about your experiences, and learning from others’ successes [8]. 

Talk to your child’s school


If your child is of school age, speak to their teacher or SENCO. The school is a big part of your child’s support network, so the staff should be aware of any behavioural issues. Ask them to work collaboratively with you and to keep an eye on things while you can’t. Parents tend to cope better when they have positive experiences with schools [8], so this is an important relationship to maintain. 

It might take a while to build up a support network, so go one step at a time, and be easy on yourself. Lean on those closest to you for support first, and then branch out slowly. As things ease up, and your child’s support network grows, you and your partner will start to feel more in control. You may even find a few moments to dedicate to yourselves and each other.

Contact a Family has a free guide for parents available from our helpline on 0808 808 3555 or free to download. Understanding your child's behaviour looks at:

  • Why children behave in different ways.
  • How to set the scene for good behaviour, recognising triggers and finding strategies.
  • Managing specific issues, like tantrums or biting.
  • Looking after yourself - people and organisations who can support you and your family.
  • Puberty and the teenage years, plus much more.

References


[1] Parish, S. L., Rose, R. A., Grinstein-Weiss, M., Richman, E. L., & Andrews, M. E. (2008). Material hardship among U.S. families raising children with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 75, 72–91.

[2] Plant, K. M., & Sanders, M. R. (2007). Predictors of care-giver stress in families of preschool aged children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 51, 109 –124.

[3] Worcester, J. A., Nesman, T. M., Raffaele Mendez, L., M., & Keller, H. R. (2008). Giving voice to parents of young children with challenging behavior. Exceptional Children, 74, 509–525.

[4] Resch, J. A., Mireles, G., Benz, M. R., Grenwelge, C., Peterson, & R., Zhang, D. (2010). Giving Parents a Voice: A Qualitative Study of the Challenges Experienced by Parents of Children With Disabilities.  Rehabilitation Psychology, Vol.55(2), 139-150.

[5] Brannen, M. A., & Heflinger, C. A. (2006). Caregiver, child, family, and service system contributors to caregiver strain in two mental health service systems. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, 33, 408 – 422.

[6] Seltzer, M. M., & Heller, T. (1997). Families and caregiving across the life course: Research advances on the influence of context. Family Relations, 46, 395– 405.

[7] Sanders, M. (1999). Triple P-Positive Parenting Program: Towards an Empirically Validated Multilevel Parenting and Family Support Strategy for the Prevention of Behavior and Emotional Problems in Children. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol.2(2), 71-9.

[8] Ludlow, A., Skelly, C., Rohleder, P. (2012). Challenges faced by parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, Vol.17(5), pp.702-71.

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