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Steps to Success » Emotional Wellbeing

Dealing with Difficult Responses from Children

As a tutor, one of the challenges I face is dealing with difficult responses from my students. It is frustrating at times when children become uncooperative or show unruly behaviors. From my own experience, as well as advice I have gathered from colleagues, the best course of action involves composure, active listening, clear communication, using positive reinforcement, and modeling good behavior.

The first step to regaining control of the situation is to stay calm and composed. Children are more perceptive than we often expect. Reacting with anger or showing frustration can escalate the situation further, so it is important to approach the situation with a clear head.

Active Listening
Give your full attention to the child and actively listen to their concerns or responses. Show empathy and understanding by acknowledging their feelings and perspectives. This helps to create a supportive environment and encourages open communication.

Clear Communication
Let children know that their feelings are valid, even if you don’t agree with their response. Validating their emotions helps them feel heard and understood. A helpful response in this situation can be as simple as, ‘I understand that you’re feeling upset.’ Take some time to understand the underlying reasons for the difficult responses. Be supportive in addressing their concerns.

Following this, establish clear boundaries and expectations for behavior. Use a firm but gentle tone. Be consistent in the rules you establish and make sure they understand your expectations. When providing guidance, instead of giving directives, try offering the child choices and alternatives. Not only can that help them feel a sense of control and autonomy, but doing so may also help them feel empowered and encourage cooperation. For example, if I know my student struggles with writing, I may offer them the choice of three short exercises or one long one. The quantity of writing will be the same, but one approach may feel more manageable to the student that day.

Positive Reinforcement and Modelling behavior
Acknowledge and reward positive behavior. Praise and encourage children when they respond appropriately or make an effort to cooperate. Positive reinforcement strengthens good behavior patterns and motivates them to continue behaving positively in the future. Furthermore, as an adult, your actions will serve as an example. Practise the rules you apply to them. By demonstrating patience, respect, and effective communication, you are teaching children how to handle difficult situations calmly and constructively.


These tools can be applied to a wide range of situations. For example, if parenting a picky eater, instead of saying, ‘Eat your vegetables,’ you could say, ‘Would you like broccoli or carrots with your dinner?’ Remember that every child is unique, so it may take time and patience to find the best approach. Showing empathy and putting in a consistent effort to foster positive communication will go a long way in helping children develop healthier responses and behaviors.