Has your child been acting out more recently? Maybe they were doing ok but then fall hit (with remote school) and things have gotten out of hand! Here’s some signs your kid might be acting out:

  • Crying more easily
  • Difficulty calming down
  • Talking back
  • Blowing up at something small

While sometimes you want to pull your hair out, it’s actually common for kids to be more defiant when they experience stress. Even positive changes can result in stress and acting out.

Have any of these changes impacted your family or child this Fall?

  • School from home 
  • More time with siblings
  • Different day care routine 
  • Changes in soccer practice 
  • Not able to see friends from school

Changes result in more demands on kids. Here are some things that parents can do to mitigate some of the stress and manage the unwanted behaviors. 

1. Increase one-on-one time with your child

Spending more time with your child one-on-one is your first, most powerful tool! One reason kids act out is to get ATTENTION. Attention is an appropriate need for kids and kids will do a lot for attention, including getting in trouble.

If your child is acting out, refocus on having a positive interaction with them every day for at least a few minutes. This helps them get the attention that they need without negative attention seeking behavior.

Set a time (5-10min) per day that you can have some positive one-on-one time with your child. Choose an activity that they enjoy, allows for no interruptions and fits your family’s schedule. 

2. Prioritize expectations 

The demands of doing school remotely and other changes may require more energy or result in more frustration for your child. When kids (and adults!) are stressed and depleted, it’s hard to meet expectations.

Even if your child was meeting your expectations for school, chores and getting along with siblings before, it may be harder for them now due to all the changes. Think through the expectations you have for your child right now:

  • Get ready for school on time
  • Pay attention to class online 
  • Complete assignments 
  • Brush teeth
  • Not fighting with sister 
  • Etc. 

What expectations are they meeting? In other words, what is going well? What are they struggling with? Identify what they are having a hard time with right now. 

Now that we have an idea of the demands on your child, your expectations and which expectations not being met (i.e. behavioral problems), let’s prioritize what you want to work on.

Choose 3 behaviors to focus on at this time. Some problem behaviors will need to wait to be addressed later. It is better to focus on a few behaviors so that you can respond to them consistently and see progress sooner, rather than wear yourself out trying to keep up with everything. 

3. Give consistent rewards and consequences to reduce acting out 

Once you have 3 behaviors to focus on, it’s time to come up with a plan for rewards and consequences. This is a great way to start motivating positive behaviors and making negative behaviors less appealing for your child.

Identify what behaviors you can reward (i.e. the opposite of problem behaviors) such as doing the dishes 4 out of 5 nights or going to bed when asked.  Use consequences if behaviors need immediate attention…such as aggression or refusing to turn off the TV. 

Remember that consequences work best if

  1. Your child’s needs are being met…like the need for attention we talked about before and
  2. If they know what alternative behaviors will get them what they want. That is why one-on-one time and rewards help consequences be more effective!

The key to both rewards and consequences is CONSISTENCY! A good reward system is one you can follow every time and does not require unrealistic time or finances. Likewise, consequences should be ones that you can do in most situations and are not so difficult to enforce that you give in. 

For example, grounding kids from all electronics for a week or month may be really difficult to enforce but loss of electronics for today and tomorrow is more realistic. Make the plan doable for your family given your unique situation! 

You Got This! 

Consistency will be a lot easier if you have chosen your top most important behaviors to focus on. As you reward and provide consequences consistently, your child will start to master skills and improve behaviors. One-on-one time will help you have a closer emotional connection with your child and will help them know that you love them even when you have to make the tough parenting decisions.

This may be a rough patch, it is also an opportunity to attune to your child’s needs, refocus on positive interactions and strengthen your parenting skills! 

So Your Child is Acting Out Worksheet

Want these questions in an easy to use free downloadable worksheet? This worksheet will help you take steps forward in dealing with anxiety. You’ll also get access to all our worksheets in Here Counseling’s Resource Library!


Melissa Winfield, PsyD
Melissa Winfield, PsyD

I help children, teenagers and parents find hope and resilience through the tough times.