Unexpected and surprising behavior can be challenging when it is just you and your child. When it crops up in social situations it can feel very awkward. By planning ahead, you will know what to do if a situation suddenly arises.

A guideline of how to handle specific behaviors is a helpful place to begin. You will need to tailor each strategy to your relationship and your circumstances, but consider these general categories of awkward behaviors:

Withdrawn behavior:

Insist on your child’s presence at some group activities for limited periods of time. This may require your gentle close physical contact for reassurance.

Disruptive behavior (banging, yelling, interrupting, etc.):

Ignore if possible without verbal or eye contact. If your child persists turn his chair away from table/group. As soon as quiet redirect or re-involve and reinforce first positive move. If all else fails, isolate your child to chair/room area.

Tantrums, excessive whining:

Ignore if possible (as above). If your child is likely to hurt themselves, remove to a safe area and ignore. If the behavior persists, a specific program for a time-out may be indicated.
Note: Expect escalation of behavior following intervention before behavior starts to decrease.

Escalated Behavior:

With an adult: Ignore, turn away and if persists, move away and follow the procedure for disruptive behavior and tantrums described above.

With children: Remove aggressor firmly but not punitively. No verbalization.

Seat your child on a chair turned away from the group and stand close in contact with your child. Comment positively to other children and comfort ‘victim’ if possible while ignoring your child (aggressor). Note: If not sure who was the aggressor put both children on chairs/floor (separated).

Leave your child on the chair no longer than 2 minutes. Redirect to activity and reinforce the first non-negative behavior.

Other forms of unwanted behavior such as self-abuse, poor self-regulation, hyperactivity, etc. will probably require individual judgment to help manage these extreme socially awkward moments.

Always get your child’s attention before giving instruction/request.

If your child is across the room expect him to look and pay attention before giving direction.

If your child is close, get eye contact before giving direction. (You may need to squat at your child’s level – face to face.

If your child initiates conversation or gestures a request, expect eye contact before responding.

How to reduce the emphasis on unwanted behaviors:

General Rule: If possible, avert your head, make no eye contact or verbalization following an unwanted behavior. As soon as your child stops, re-direct and involve your child in an alternative activity. Reinforce the first positive move.

Reestablish eye contact.

Running in the hall or grocery store:

If your child stops when reminded to “walk” reinforce “good walking”. If your child keeps running don’t chase him – walk after him, take him gently but firmly by the wrist or upper arm and walk back to starting point and start again.

Not complying with requests:

Give gentle physical hand-over-hand assistance to complete the requested task. If your child still resists, he may have to be removed to another area, etc.

Inappropriate use of equipment:

Explain limit and proper use. Physically redirect your child if needed. If your child persists, remove material and/or child.


Warn your child only once “don’t throw sand (blocks, etc.)”. If your child persists, without comment remove with a steady, no-nonsense intention. Take earliest opportunity to demonstrate constructive play.

If your child throws because he has no skills for constructive play, provide with toys fastened to surface and develop a program for teaching skills.

If your child throws in anger, request ‘pick it up’ and insist firmly but gently that he follow through with hand-over-hand help if necessary.

Read the related article “Awkward! How to Help Your Socially Awkward Child”.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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