Managing Challenging Behaviours in Children – Part 1

Caregivers may be at a loss of what to do when their child displays challenging behaviours. SPD’s early intervention psychologist, Jacelyn Loh, shares some strategies in managing children's emotions.

Some caregivers may be at a loss of what to do when their child displays challenging behaviours. There are strategies that caregivers can make use of to manage their child’s emotions. In this first of the two-part series, SPD’s early intervention psychologist, Jacelyn Loh, shares how.

Often, children exhibit challenging behaviours when they do not get what they want, when there is a sense of lack of control on their part (for e.g., unexpected/inexplicable changes in routine, not getting to choose what they want to wear or eat) or when their needs are not met (for e.g., attention, security, rest, food, well-being). Here are some strategies that a caregiver can adopt:

STRATEGY 1: OFFER CHOICES

Scenario – It was time for piano lesson and John was still playing with his toys.

Mum: John, it’s time to go for piano lesson.

John: Can I just finish this?

Mum: No, we have to leave for piano lesson now.

John: Started to whine and kick up a big fuss.

What to do?

1. Get the message across without saying the word “No”

Many children often throw a tantrum after hearing the word “No”. “No” signals a lack of control on their part as they are given no choice but to listen to the adults. The key is to get the message across without saying the word “No”. Here’s what Mum can say:

Mum: John, it’s time to go for piano lesson.

John: Can I just finish this?

Mum: Yes, you can finish it as soon as we get back.

2. Offer choices

Offering choices helps children to have control over what they want. For instance, if you want to get your child to leave the playground, instead of saying “No, you have to go now”, you can say, “Would you like to leave in five or 10 minutes?” When given a choice, children are more likely to go along with your request.

STRATEGY 2: LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Children are easily influenced by what they see and hear. To get children to engage in positive behaviour, demonstrate the behaviour and describe your behaviour in words at the same time. For example, a child refuses to put on his/her jacket. Mum can say “I’m feeling cold and I am going to wear a jacket,” while putting on a jacket. In this way, the child gets to see and hear what you hope he/she will do without giving direct instructions.

Caregivers can lead by example to get children to engage in positive behaviour
Caregivers can lead by example to get children to engage in positive behaviour

STRATEGY 3 AND 4: ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

Parents usually struggle to understand why seemingly trivial things can cause a huge reaction in their children. Parents need to be more aware that children are easily overwhelmed. As children’s brains are less developed, their emotions often take over their thinking abilities. This can happen when they become fixated over something they want, become frustrated at their inability to do something or when they feel an expectation on them to do something they dislike. These situations can make them feel that their need for attention, control, security or feelings of success is not being met.

Scenario – Jane dropped her ice cream on the floor and started crying.

Managing Behaviour 3

Mum: Never mind, it’s just an ice-cream. I told you to sit down when eating. Look at what happened now.

When Jane dropped her ice-cream, it was a huge disappointment to her. However, Mum felt that it was not a big deal and tried to comfort Jane with a dismissive statement.

This made Jane felt that Mum did not understand her feelings. Even when Mum offered to buy another ice-cream to stop Jane from crying, it was too late, as Jane was already at the peak of her emotions.

 

 

Managing Behaviour 4

Mum: Oh dear, you dropped your ice-cream. Ah… and you love that flavour. Let me give you a hug.

When Mum offered empathy, instead of getting more upset, Jane would start to think of how to improve the situation. Jane might consider that another ice-cream was going to help.

If Mum did not want to buy another ice-cream, she could say, “We need to be back home in 10 minutes and there is no time to wait in the queue. I know this is hard for you. Maybe we can have something else you like once we are at home.”

Regardless of how badly Jane is going to behave, mum has to stick to her word. Giving in will only teach the child that shouting and demanding will get her what she wants.

In the next issue, Jacelyn will share more strategies to assist caregivers. Look out for it.

 

Reference:
• How to Calm a Challenging Child, Miriam Chachamu (2008)

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