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Behavioral challenges are part of growing up

Few children get by without challenges at every stage of their lives. Many of these challenges will be short-lived. But it's good to be prepared to address them and to know when to seek help.

On any given day, kids can surprise you. Your usually compliant 3-year-old may refuse a simple request. Or a child who is normally generous won't share a favorite toy. Maybe he or she even hits the other child instead.

These actions may be the norm for some 3-year-olds. But you might be upset because your child's "bad" behavior is new to you. You wonder what caused it. And you don't want it to happen again.

So what's a parent to do?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it's not uncommon for parents to have a hard time telling the difference between normal behavior changes and true behavior problems. In fact, behavior changes can be viewed in a number of ways. And some of them have little to do with your parenting skills.

For example, kids, like adults, can have bad days. When that's the case, bad behavior may vanish overnight.

Your child might also be showing his or her independence. That could happen again at almost any time during the growing years.

Sources of trouble

Sometimes changes in your child's behavior and attitudes can be due to other factors, such as:

Your child's stage of development. The AAP and other groups have adopted milestones to measure a child's development. But no two children are exactly alike. Even at the same age, they can be different socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically. Some kids learn certain skills faster than others. And some mature faster.

Events that affect family life. Moving or the birth of a new baby can cause a child to feel less secure at any age. So can a serious illness in the family or a divorce. In response, your child might try to get your attention. Or, behavior you thought your child outgrew might return. At around age 3, your child might refuse to pick up toys or throw a tantrum. An older child might shut the door to his or her room and refuse to come out for dinner.

Real physical or mental impairments. Sometimes, a child's behavior can be due to a treatable condition, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Or it may be due to a physical problem, such as impaired vision or hearing loss.

A few things you can do

When your child acts poorly, it's better to give a nudge in the right direction than have a power struggle about the behavior. You might, for example, reward your child for acting the way you'd like him or her to. This can produce better results than spanking to punish bad behavior. Spanking is not advised by the AAP.

Also, be sure your child understands the rules of your house. This will set the stage for accepting future rules you make. Don't expect your child to be perfect, though. Even when your child's behavior seems to be on the right track, he or she will challenge you. That's a part of growing up.

If your child's behavior is less than perfect, it may embarrass you. But don't give your child the idea that he or she is bad. Point out instead that the behavior is bad.

When your family is under stress of any kind, try to understand your child's feelings. Take steps to comfort and help your child adjust to things that may cause the child to worry or be frightened.

If you are concerned that your child needs help or doesn't seem to be developing as you'd expect, contact your healthcare provider for advice. Many problems, if found early, can be treated and well managed. The provider can also help you cope better.

Maintain your balance

Few would say that good parenting is easy. Even so, it can be rewarding and pleasant. You'll succeed best if you keep your sense of humor and trust your instincts. Should professional help be needed, seek it sooner rather than later.

Reviewed 2/3/2023

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