In the previous article, “Managing Challenging Behaviours in Children – Part 1”, SPD’s early intervention psychologist, Jacelyn Loh, introduced four strategies that caregivers can use to manage their children’s challenging behaviours. Jacelyn shares more methods in this second part of the series.
STRATEGY 5: TEACH YOUR CHILD TO MANAGE THEIR EMOTIONS WHEN THEY ARE IN A GOOD MOOD
Engaging in physical activities can help release tension when children are at the peak of their emotions. Signing children up for activities like swimming can cultivate their interest in physical activity and helps them release their emotions in a healthy way. Some parents also bring their child out for a long walk to calm him/her down when they see that their child is starting to get into a state of heightened emotions.
It is important to find and exercise calming strategies together with your child when he/she is in a good mood. Some examples include identifying your child’s favourite object of comfort, engaging in creative activities, such as scribbling, tearing used paper into strips, deep breathing exercises or tasks that are neither taxing nor trivial (for e.g., counting backwards), which can help draw the thinking brain out. You can find more examples in an earlier article on “Managing Tantrums and Meltdowns”.
However, when children are in the midst of their emotions, it is not a good idea to introduce new strategies to manage their anger. Sometimes we find children not wanting to do what is rehearsed, but do not give up, as it takes time and effort to tame the “Anger monster”. After a few more conversations and rehearsals, children will remember the strategies and use them in moments of their anger.
STRATEGY 6: REWARD SPECIFIC GOOD BEHAVIOUR INSTEAD OF PUNISHING BAD BEHAVIOUR
The biggest issue with using punishment is that fear becomes the child’s primary motivation. When fear is the motivation, children will try all means not to get caught, gradually learning to hide their mistakes, blame their mistakes on others or lie. Punishment is also ineffective in fixing the developmental delays in children who are seen as impulsive.
Instead, when you make your approval and affirmation visible and attainable, it motivates a child to demonstrate good behaviour. Rewards and star charts are ways to incentivise and encourage specific good behaviours. To implement star charts successfully, do adhere to the following rules:
- Specify the behaviour that will earn the child the star;
- Once given, the star should not be taken away;
- Do not make it too difficult to earn stars, so the child will always have a motivation to put on his/her best behaviour.
Avoid giving food as rewards, especially sweets, lest they develop comfort eating habits later in life, and associate it with approval when food treats are given in other occasions.
More Strategies for Children with Learning Disabilities
Children typically show more challenging behaviour from the age of two years, but they will outgrow it as their communication and social skills develop, enabling them to get what they need. On the other hand, children with learning disabilities may not have developed these skills. They are unable to get what they need despite having the same needs as their same-age peers.
Some ways to manage challenging behaviour in children with learning difficulties include:
- Reading social stories to the child to prepare the child for a new experience or activity;
- Physically holding the child or moving him/her to somewhere safe if the child is behaving violently. Holding them makes children feel safe, assuring them that their strong emotions are being contained. Continue staying with them without speaking until they are calm, as words have no effect at this time. When they are calm, they have to experience the consequences for their violent behaviour. The objective of doing so is to teach the child to make it up to whoever who has been hurt;
- When a tantrum is in full swing in a public place, you can either wait it out or leave the place with the child;
- If your child does not stop what he/she is doing after you have asked him/her to, gently take the item away or remove your child from the source. This will be more effective than repeating your request.
Caregivers’ Self Care
Although challenging behaviours in children are common, they can be emotionally and mentally draining to manage. This is why self-care is important for caregivers. Relaxation techniques, such as listening to music, getting a massage or deep breathing exercises can help if you find yourself feeling out of sorts. You do not need a lot of time. A 10-minute hot bath or writing every day can make a difference. The most important thing is to set aside the 10 minutes for these activities. Do remember to keep a calm mind and be attuned to your feelings when carrying out these activities. Before you can manage your children, you need to take care of your own wellbeing.
- How to Calm a Challenging Child, Miriam Chachamu (2008).