Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Stress, Stress, Stress & Behaviours Galore

Too Many Behaviours to Manage

An angel when sleeping ... You just wait!

What do you do when your child misbehaves over every little thing? 

I'm talking:
  • Temper tantrums because they can't find a toy
  • Screaming at their brother because he's in their way
  • Hitting Mom because they're mad
  • Refusing to clean up their messes
So what's the deal?  Why do some kids act like this?  As parents we often think that our child is just difficult, but more often than not, it's simply because we just don't know what is causing the behaviour.

The actual behaviour doesn't matter all that much.  What matters is the events that led up to a behaviour (trigger) and what is causing your child to have difficulty fulfilling the expectation (lagging skill).

Let me tell you about my little man.  When he was young, I was so frustrated because he acted out all the time.  He was constantly having temper tantrums over what seemed like nothing.

What I didn't realize is that he was frustrated.  He couldn't communicate well, he was very routine oriented and had a hard time transitioning from one activity to the next, and he was not handling his stress very well when he couldn't accomplish something.

How did I handle it?

At first, I used behaviour management tricks that worked with my eldest child.
  • Incentives for good behaviour
  • Praise
  • 1, 2, 3 Magic (count to 3, the child complies within that time, otherwise there's a consequence)
  • Time limits 
  • Time outs
  • Consequences for inappropriate behaviour
  • Revoking privileges
Nothing worked!  He just flat out refused to function appropriately.  I was even convinced that he could be ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

After trying everything I could possibly think of, I decided it was time to compromise.  I finally started listening to my child.  I followed his cues (as he was non-verbal).  I paid attention to what events led up to him becoming upset and came to conclusions as to his triggers.

I noticed that he was very routine based and needed to finish what he was doing before moving onto a new task, so I starting giving him 5 minute warnings when it was going to be time to transition and if need be, helped him to complete his project.

I noticed that he didn't have good coping skills when something didn't go his way, so I started talking to him calmly and prompting him to show me what he needed help with and modeling how I expected him to speak.  I simply told him in a soft, soothing voice that there was no need to get upset, Mommy was here to help him.

As I became more in tune with his needs and helping to improve the skills he was lacking in, he became happier and his behaviours began to diminish.

Now that I have a good understanding of his needs, common behaviour management techniques are working.  We use 1, 2, 3 Magic a lot and I give choices on a regular basis.  If he is acting inappropriately, I just have to ask, "How do you get help?" or "How do you talk to Mommy?"

How do I decide which behaviours to deal with?  I can't deal with them all?

We made a mental chart of what we had to deal with, what we were going to compromise on, and what we simply weren't willing to work on at that time.

I have to deal with this:

Sometimes you have to force your will on your child.  Usually this involves a safety issue.

My son doesn't like to hold my hand in the parking lot, but when cars are driving near us, he has no choice.  I know I chance him having a meltdown, but that's just too bad.

I do have an option for after the fact though.  I can talk with my child later and discuss why I need to hold his hand.  I know that my son likes to be independent, so I compromise with him by allowing him to walk independently as long as he stays close to me, but as soon as there are cars, he needs to take hold of my hand.

Things that I don't have time for:

You can't deal with everything, otherwise your stress levels will go through the roof.  So, decide which items can go on the back burner.

For us, our son doesn't like to stay seated during supper time.  This is the least of our concerns, so we decided to let it go until we had other behaviours under wrap.  Now that we've successfully dealt with his other needs, we are finally starting to work on staying seated during supper time.

How to deal with the rest:

It's a good idea to start a journal or keep track using a chart, the events that lead up to a behaviour (who, what, where, and when).  Then look for a trend. 

Perhaps your child is well behaved in the morning, but often shows unfavourable behaviours after he's been up for awhile.  You might conclude that they are tired and require more naps.

If your child consistently acts out when you interrupt an activity they are in the middle of, they might have difficulties transitioning.

Once you have a list of antecedents (these are the trigger events or expectations), this Thinking Skills Reference List from Think:Kids is a useful tool for determining the skills that your child might need some extra help with:
  • Language & Communication
  • Attention & Working Memory Skills
  • Emotion & Self Regulation Skills (handy work set)
  • Cognitive Flexibility Skills
  • Social Thinking Skills
If a child feels that they can't accomplish something, it's only human nature to try to avoid that task.  Challenging behaviours are definitely an effective avoidance strategy.

Working with your child instead of against your child will help them to feel like you understand and care about their needs.

Collaborate with your child.  Talk to them about their concerns related to accomplishing a certain task, then you share your concerns.  Brainstorm together to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

When I adopted this technique, my world completely changed.  My stress revolving around dealing with my challenging child is gone.  I'm happy, he's happy, and so is the rest of our family.

As a parent, one of our jobs is to teach our children, but our other job is to learn from our children.

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