Parents often struggle to identify why their children are having behavior problems and how to manage those behavioral outbursts that seem to occur at all the wrong times. It is difficult enough to deal with behaviors when they arise in the home, but can be embarrassing when they occur in public and leave parents feeling helpless.
In any situation, the first thing to consider is “Why is the behavior occurring.” As a professional that works with children with developmental disabilities, language, sensory processing and motor skills difficulties, I know first hand the role these difficulties play and how they negatively impact children’s behavior. While all children have behavior problems, children with developmental disabilities are at greater risk due to the challenges they face meeting age appropriate expectations.
So why do behavior problems occur?
At the root of most behavior problems is a child’s inability to get what they want. While this sounds logical it isn’t just their inability to get what they want but typically they lack the ability to know how to respond to their frustration thus they act out or throw the all too familiar temper tantrum. While older children may not throw the dreaded temper tantrum, they may act out in other ways as they attempt to meet their needs.
Often how we respond to the child’s tantrums is what causes the inappropriate behavior to continue. In the case of children with developmental disabilities they often have medical problems families are focused on. Battling a child’s health issues and medical interventions leads to parents that are anxious about their child’s needs and worn out from all the challenges. They often do not want to feel like they are fighting every battle, so they let some things slide rather than focus on one more thing that is likely to create a fuss.
The most common example of this is the child that screams when a parent is introducing a new food. The parent doesn’t force the issue to avoid a bigger problem and thus the child learns they can avoid new foods if they scream loud enough. Our job as parents is to teach new skills to allow a child to function independently as they develop skills and learn to function within their daily activities.
We know kids learn best when provided with structure, routine and consistency. These all allow a child to know what to expect. Children rely on the adults in their lives to create the structure and routine of their day. Structure and routine provide predictability which supports their development as well as ability to respond to things. Children also need consistency of expectations, and rules to allow them to know what they need to do. If the rules and expectations are constantly changing it leads to confusion.
Children also need a sense of control over their environment. If children do not have a daily routine, and there is a lack of consistency in expectations and how behaviors are responded to a child will feel a loss of control over their environment.
If you feel as if you are constantly fighting battles with your child start by evaluating the keys to making change. Is there predictability for the child, a routine that allows them to know what is coming next or are things constantly changing and unpredictable. Also take time to look at what your message is to your child when problems occur. Are you consistent in how you respond to the child or do you give in even when you don’t want to?
This is the first in a series of blogs written to help parents better understand how to work with their children when behaviors get in the way of everyone being happy.