We love them to pieces but let’s face it, kids can be tricky sometimes. As parents or educators, we are often confronted with a child’s challenging behaviors. What works? What’s not so helpful? I am here to help. I am not a behavior specialist by any means, but as a speech therapist, I have worked with many kids (of all abilities) and have a few tips that have worked for me.
Here are some ideas to help with a variety of kids and abilities:
Pick one or two challenging behaviors to work on
Pick one or two behaviors that you want to target rather than trying to change too much at once. Then clearly communicate your expectations to your child. Be consistent with your follow-through, as well. If jumping on the couch is not allowed one day and then it is the next, it can send mixed messages.
Sit down with your child and come up with a plan together
What behaviors are you working on changing? What is a goal you can work toward together? What strategies or replacement behaviors are available to help reach the goal? Including your child in this plan gives them some sense of control and accountability with the situation.
Practice and teach
Find what motivates your child
Is there a way to use that motivation as some sort of reward? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a toy/prize. It could be something as simple as letting them chose/plan a dinner or picking out the family movie. Or maybe it’s an experience? Perhaps a dinosaur lover gets to go to the dinosaur museum when they meet a goal.
Give choices when you can
Choices let a child feel like they have some control. Let’s say you want him to get ready for school on time. He needs to get dressed, brush teeth and eat breakfast. Does the order matter? Maybe he can pick the order that works for him. The expectations are still being met and you might have less of a battle on your hands.
Give praise for positive behavior
Praise your kid as often as possible when you see him doing something positive. It’s harder than it sounds, as we’re not always watching our kid’s every move. And, try to incorporate emotions into what you are saying. For example, “It made me feel so happy that you picked up your toys.” “I really appreciated that you looked at me just now. That way I know you are listening.”
Watch your tone of voice
Now, this is a hard one for me – I can come off as very bossy and know-it-all, but kids can sense when you are condescending. Try to communicate how you feel about a kid’s behavior without making him feel ashamed about it.
Keep in mind what expectations are reasonable for a child’s age
Sometimes we expect too much too fast from our little people. Keep your goals reasonable and set short, small term goals that can be achieved quickly at first. Also, keep in mind a child’s developmental age/emotional IQ. If they have identified delays, be understanding that their emotional skills may not be at the same level as their same-aged peers.
Teach skills through a relatable story or video
I love finding books that can help support the skill I am trying to help a child learn. They usually enjoy it, too. Some books I love, I just mentioned on Facebook, they are the Toddler Tools series. We have “Mealtime,” “Calm-down Time,” “Listening Time,” and “Manners Time.” We’ll be getting more, too.
Establish a feelings signal for check-ins throughout the day
Maybe it’s just a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down. A thumbs-down might indicate my body is feeling silly or upset, and I need some help. But, something as small as a signal will provide a kid with an easy way to show how he’s feeling without much explanation.
Ignore what you can and pick your battles
This one is also super hard for me. But, if we harp on every single behavior, a child is going to get frustrated and not progress the way you want. Keep it to what’s important to you, such as hitting, biting, screaming–whatever you consider significant.
Use fewer words during a meltdown
When a child is having a meltdown, the fewer the words, the better (this coming from a speech therapist who loves talking.) Kids are not able to process the way they should when they’re upset. Let them experience those emotions and keep them (and others safe.) When the meltdown is over, and they are calm, then it would be appropriate to talk/problem-solve about what happened. Always try to debrief afterward. Let them know you love and care for them and you are here to help.
Try to understand the reason for your child’s behavior
I believe kids don’t choose to be “naughty.” There is usually a reason for challenging behaviors. Tired? Boredom? Feeling overwhelmed or anxious? Figuring out possible reasons for behaviors can help you plan appropriately for the future.
Just know each child is unique and not all challenging behaviors are a simple fix, but with time and patience (which is hard, I know!) you can break habits and be aware of what triggers may cause meltdowns, tantrums or anger.
Feel free to email me if you have any questions!