Play Detective: Uncover the Meaning of your Child’s Challenging Behaviors (Part 2)
Written by Rachel Schwartz, LSW, and Jamie Miller, LCPC, JCC Chicago Early Childhood Social Services
Last week we talked about core functions of a child’s behavior and how you can investigate to determine the underlying meaning and purpose it is serving for your child. Once you are able to identify those factors, you can implement strategies to stop the behavior from reoccurring. Below are some suggestions to consider that can help set your child up for success:
- Routines- Adults need to be thoughtful and planful when setting up routines for their children. Young children thrive on predictability and learn from repetition. They like and need to know what is happening next in order to minimize anxiety, which ultimately can lessen challenging behavior.
- Expectations- It is important for you to know and understand your child’s abilities and limitations. When you expect too much or too little from your child, it can lead to problems and frustrations for both of you. Clearly state your expectations in advance so they can anticipate the rules and know the consequence if they do not comply.
- Be consistent- It is important for children to know that certain behaviors elicit specific responses. No matter what the rules are that you create, it is important to be consistent in reinforcing them. By being consistent with your limits, your child will learn they can trust you to do what you say.
- Plan ahead- Try to anticipate what your child may do or need in various situations, and always have a back-up plan. Prepare your child in advance for what is coming next.
- Validate feelings- Children first need help identifying and labeling their feelings. They also want to feel understood. It is important to acknowledge how they are feeling regardless of whether you agree with their reaction (e.g., “I see that you are upset because you have to wait to eat that cookie.”).
- Empower children- In order to help children feel more in control in a world where they have so little say, try offering them limited choices throughout their day. While both choices are acceptable to you, your child will feel empowered (e.g., “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?” “Would you like toast or a bagel for breakfast?”).
- Use “When…Then” Statements- These are simple instructions that tell your child what they must do in order to reach a desired outcome (e.g., “When you put on your shoes, then you may go outside.”).
- Praise- Catch your child behaving appropriately. Give specific, positive attention and recognition to the behavior that you want to see increase. Celebrate the positive things your child does and reward good behavior.
Remember, behavior serves a purpose for children, and it is our job as the adults in their world, to play detective and figure out what they are trying to communicate. Once you understand the meaning behind their behavior, you can respond differently and teach new, more appropriate ways for them to express their wants and needs.