Consistency in your reaction to an action is important because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your child. Even though you know your child well, there will be times when understanding the child’s behavior isn’t very clear .e.g. when you ask her to do her chores, but she’d rather play video games. Children tend to continue a behavior when rewarded and stop one when ignored. We were able to connect with Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL.
About the Author – Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC
Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park. Read more about Rita at: IFCcounseling.com.
You can find Individual and Family Connection on Facebook, too.
How to Handle “Bad Behavior”.
Children communicate what they are thinking and feeling through their behaviors rather than language. All too often, parents, teachers, and grandparents alike get caught up in the behavior of the moment without taking the time to assess the ‘why’ behind a child’s behavior. Becoming too heavily focused on the behavior itself, caregivers will often lecture a child about making “good” and “bad” choices without understanding what is driving the behavior in the first place. As a pediatric therapist, I am constantly challenging parents to see beyond children’s behaviors to find out what they are trying to communicate, which will help us change the behavior together! Here are three simple steps you can take to fully understand your child’s behavior and become more successful in helping your child cope with life’s struggles.
Fix for Bad Behavior Step 1 – Understand your child’s challenge.
Is your child’s negative behavior linked to their development? Your child may be acting out because they don’t have the skills they need to cope with a present challenge. Your child may not have developed the executive functioning skills, impulse control, or logic they need to respond appropriately to a stressor. It is important to understand your child’s developmental skill level before placing a demand or expectation that is too high. If the expectations are too high, this presents a great opportunity for you to come alongside your child and teach them the skill they need to succeed. It is important to shift your thinking from “my child needs to learn how to obey” to “my child needs support in order to grow.”
Fix for Bad Behavior Step 2 – Be conscious of your tone and avoid blame or judgment.
Misbehavior is an opportunity for growth, not a consciously failed attempt to make a “good choice.” Punitive punishments and comments that place blame and judgment on a child will only push your child away from the connection with you that they need most in order to grow. You may intend to tell your child it is their BEHAVIOR you don’t like, but your child will undoubtedly interpret your words into you don’t like “THEM.”
Avoid placing judgment or blame on your child and empower them to problem solve by changing how you phrase your observations of their behavior. Instead of “I gave you enough chances, you blew it, we are leaving” Try “You’re having a hard time taking turns with your friends, what will help next time?”
Fix for Bad Behavior Step 3 – Look at your relationship
Behavior challenges can be a sign of a need for an increase in connection. When children feel disconnected and unsupported by their caregivers, their brain gets stuck in a state of fear; insecurities overwhelm the nervous system, and a child may act out or shut down. Punitive punishments, judgmental comments, blame, and shame all contribute to your child feeling disconnected. By re-establishing your bond, your child’s behaviors are likely to dissolve. Talk to your child about your concerns in a non-judgmental manner and think of ways together to solve the problem at hand. Remember, you’re a team!
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