My child has a lot of behaviors!....... He is very stubborn! He has a mind of his own..... and I can’t do much about it :(........These are common complaints I hear from parents all the time.
Challenging behaviors can be of 4 types,
Self-Injurious Behaviors (Behaviors targeted towards self) like head banging, hitting self-etc.
Aggression: (Behaviors targeted towards other people) Biting, pinching, hitting, scratching, slapping etc.
Disruption: (Behaviors towards other objects) Banging objects, throwing objects
Non-Compliance: (Refusal to complete requests) that results in any of the above behaviors, rolling on the floor etc.
So why is my child throwing a tantrum, breaking things, hitting etc. The reasons can be:
I don’t know what should I be doing in this situation (It is new for me)
I failed at the task (I tried but cannot finish it)
This task is difficult for me (I need something easier)
I don’t want to do it now (I am sleepy/ tired/ not well)
All of the above your child might not be able to express due to his communication delay and hence might use objects or his body to express the same. At the same time behavioral issues are present in typically developing children as well so don’t feel that you are the target here!
So what can I do? Here's a quick guide to managing these behaviors.
Do not wait for the behavior to happen and react! Modify the environment. You know that the child likes to throw things outside. So do not keep important things like cell phones, keys etc. within reach.
If the child is trying to get a candy or juice by rolling on the floor. In case you buy it for him, he learns that when I roll I get my juice. So do not encourage it. Just show a plain face, hold the child and walk away with him. Do not appear nervous, indecisive and unsure. You can also use countdown from 5 to 1 and then walk away because you have given prior notice to him/her.
If the child is hitting or pinching you then try to figure out the reason and give him one word for it. E.g. He pinches you whenever you clean up the water he has spilled. This might be because he is frustrated that he dropped water and does not know how to clean it up himself. Say “clean up” and wipe before he pinches/ hits so that he does not learn that ‘his’ hitting results in ‘you’ cleaning up. If he hits, then say clean up but this time give the cloth in his hand and help him clean it up. Consistent and prompted response will definitely help him learn not to hit, instead use words/ get a cloth and clean up.
When trying out a new place, person or thing. Prepare the child by showing him pictures of the place before hand.
When your child is already engaged in his favorite activity and you want him to end it. Give him enough notice. Countdowns to 3 or to 5 help and then only take the activity away from the child. There can be exceptions to very rule. So Remember if you know that your child loves to watch Doraemon, do not make him watch it just before you are leaving for school because then even if you do a countdown he might want to watch till the whole show ends. So here a good choice will be to completely avoid putting Doraemon and modifying the routine.
Create a social story to introduce expected behaviors in a public place or situation. Click here to see more.
When you are in a situation where you are trying to make the child focus on a certain activity, remember to remove the distractors. So remove the calendar from the wall or the cars bed sheet that will make the child get distracted and throw a tantrum.
When in an extremely emotional state, do not talk too much to the child or explain. Think of your child’s “calm down” strategies. Check out these links, Link1, Link2 . E.g. Does your child want to hold a squishy ball or water beads to calm down or may be he likes music? Again, think of colors or the kind of music. A yellow or red ball might be more attractive than a plain blue one. A nursery rhyme vs. instrumental music. A warm water bath with some scented oil vs. jumping on the trampoline. Paper and crayons vs. an easy to do puzzle. Every child will have a preference for calming down based on whether he prefers a visual vs. auditory vs. movement vs. tactile way of calming down. You will have to be a detective to figure out what calms your child and have a list of things in your mind based on the situation and degree of severity of the behavior.
Give choices wherever permissible. It gives a sense of power to the child. So if you know that the child likes to paint and also see a book. Then give him a choice and ask which one does he want to do first?
Use positive language instead of No and Don’t. E.g. tell him I love how you can pick the toys and put it in the cupboard and start putting the toys holding his hand. Do not say don’t scatter the toys or no throwing toys around.
Use an alternate mode of communication like pictures or signs or Picture exchange communication system to reduce frustration.
Be consistent between family members and situations.So that the child does not get confused.
Use emotion words to describe your child’s or your own feelings, so that the child realizes that it is ok to be angry or disappointed or nervous. You can follow it up with a strategy like, when I feel nervous I breathe, or when I am angry I count up to 10 etc.
You can ignore a behavior completely if it’s harmless. E.g. If the child is jumping on the bed and looking at you so that you respond. You can always say, bed is for sleeping and then walk away from the room. Pick your battles and do not get involved in unnecessary power struggles.
With kids who are 5 years and above and can communicate, you can talk about Rules. How rules helps everyone to appreciate you and teach you to care for others. These rules can be about cleaning up, behaving in a restaurant or classroom etc. You can use social stories and books to reinforce the same.
From all the above methods mentioned there isn’t a single magic fix to your child’s behavioral concerns and its management. You will have to try a variety of combinations and also realize that you might see behaviors escalate initially but they will settle down eventually after some time of consistent handling. The reward will be an emotionally well-connected child with an ability to choose an appropriate self-soothing mechanism himself.
You can also read our earlier blog on Responsive Parenting to add on to your strategy lists of what to do and what not!
Wishing all parents the very best and always reminisce that your child will grow in character only if he faces challenges and knows how to change and succeed!