Behaviour and Temperament in Children

Every child is different and many things can affect their behaviour. It is important to be aware of your child's stage of development before trying to manage their behaviour. 

It is important for you to think about things that can lead to your child's challenging behaviour. Try to find things you can do to help stop it before it starts. Remember to focus on your child's behaviour and not on your child.

Stay calm. Remember that your child needs you to teach them how to cope the right way. You can do this by comforting them when they are sick, hurt, or upset. You are your child's role model.

The age and stage of your child

What can affect your child's behaviour?

Possible developmental delays

Ways to cope with challenging behaviour

The age and stage of your child

Preschooler 3-5:

It is normal for your child to want to try and please you. They can follow 2-3 simple step instructions such as "please wash your hands then come to the table to eat". Preschool children are also able to make choices. They are trying to be more independent and want to feel important. They may try to tell other children what to do.

School Age 5-8:

Your child's independence continues to develop. They will start seeking out new relationships. Relationships with peers will start to become more important.  They show empathy and offer to help when they see others in need.

Preteens 9-12:

Your child may be going through the changes of puberty. These changes may cause your child to feel emotions you haven't seen before. Parents and caregivers are a very important part of their lives.  However, preteens may want to spend more time with friends and want their support and approval. Friendships have become more important to them. Feeling like they are part of a group helps them feel good about themselves. 

What can affect your child's behaviour?

Possible developmental delays

Children are all unique and will develop at their own pace. But, it is important not to play "wait and see" or "they will grow out of it" with your child's development.

You can check if your child has delays by using the Looksee Checklist® (formerly Nipissing District Developmental Screen®-NDDS). It is a short and simple checklist review your child's growth and development at a specific age (up to 6 years old).

A delay in your child's development can affect their behaviour. Getting help early and connecting to the right services can help your child reach their full potential.

Ways to cope with challenging behaviour

You cannot always prevent your child's challenging behaviour. Sometimes trying different things can help. Remember, children look up to you and want to be like you. They need you to teach and guide them to behave well.

Positive discipline teaches and guides children. It is part of a comforting family environment. It helps your child grow to be a happy, caring person. It helps with their self-esteem, respect for others, problem solving and other life skills.

These are some ideas to help guide you:

  • Appreciate your child's good behaviour.  Remember to tell your child when they have done something well.
  • Consider using positive comments such as, "you've been working hard", or "thank you for waiting."
  • Always try to describe your child's behaviour and not the child. Explain to them what they did wrong and the behaviour you would like to see.  For example, "Please don't run in the house.  You can play outside instead, if you like."
  • Use logical consequences to help your child understand the effects of their actions. For example, if a child creates a mess, ask them to help to clean up.
  • Encourage problem solving. Ask your child: What happened? Why do they think it happened? What can you do to help?

Remember, parenting strategies will change based on your child's age and developmental stage and temperament.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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