Welcome back to Discipline 101, today we will focus on Dealing with Specifics. Children are funny little creatures and do some of the oddest things in order to gain our attention. A lot of parents, teachers and caregivers exhaust all known remedies for handling certain behavior problems to no avail. They become just as frustrated as the children who are misbehaving. In an effort to prevent the potential explosion that is likely to occur should the “adult in charge” reach wits end, let me share some more “Tools of the Trade” with you to help you “nip” the problematic behaviors.
In Part(s) I, II & III of Discipline 101, we discussed “how to” create an effective discipline plan; we reviewed creative and logical methods of teaching children to listen in an effort to eliminate yelling as a form (ineffective as it may be) of discipline; and we reviewed teaching accountability through the use of imposing both natural and logical consequences to teach children the difference between right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate and acceptable and unacceptable behaviors by modifying said behaviors.
As a former classroom teacher I got to see and deal with, on a daily basis, all kinds of disciplinary issues from aggression towards adults & children to children blaming imaginary friends for misbehavior(s) they’d committed. For some reason, I had a special knack for handling and teaching children who had and/or demonstrated greater disciplinary issues than my co-teachers and therefore it always seemed that on the first day of school I walked into a landmine. As the other teachers whispered among themselves about my class roster I welcomed the challenge and knew that in no time I’d have the children walking to my rhythm and more behaved than any co-teachers classroom full of students.
Teaching and raising children is more than just teaching children “how” to behave in accordance with the expectations and standards that you establish. It is about understanding the reasons for their actions and being proactive in order to reduce the frequency and/or eliminate inappropriate behaviors and attitudes BEFORE they arise. Like I said children are strange little creatures and just because they say they don’t want ice cream does not necessarily mean they don’t want ice cream. It could mean that they want a hug instead. Reading the cues (body motions) and listening attentively will help you determine “what” a child really wants and/or needs BEFORE an ugly situation presents itself. But, when dreaded moments occur, it’s nice to be prepared by knowing how to handle certain situations in advance.
Let’s begin by identifying particularly difficult behaviors and why they frequently occur and then tackle effective methods in resolving these conflicts and modifying the problematic behaviors into more acceptable ones.
Dealing with Specifics:
Certain childhood behaviors, attitudes and actions can make even the most level headed individual want to play in traffic. No matter how much you think you know it’s never enough to handle those little firecrackers whose main purpose in life seems to be to make you explode. These same little torturers were once the adorable little infants and perhaps toddlers (if you were lucky) that you couldn’t wait to dress and play with once upon a time. Where did the time and innocence go? Luckily, you can recapture the happier moments in time by effectively handling situations as they occur or better yet, before they happen. Let’s talk details, shall we?
Today we will tackle the top five most difficult and challenging behaviors. I will begin with Aggressive Behavior as this area is quite problematic and tends to be difficult for parents, caregivers and teachers to modify.
- Aggressive behaviors come in all kinds of packages – so what is aggression? Aggression is a forceful action or procedure, typically unprovoked, in an effort to dominate and/or control another. Put another way, it is hostile injurious and/or destructive behavior or attitude often resulting from frustration.
- Where does aggression come from? Children aren’t born aggressive, they learn it. It can be attributed to frustrations related to or resulting from cultural and social circumstances. Typically with children, family stresses and both positive and negative interactions of the family influence a child’s tendency to behave aggressively. Children will model the behaviors of others that they observe and imitate how they handle anger and frustration(s).
- Contributing factors to aggression: Aggression has been tied directly to a child’s (or individuals) temperament and the coping skills that have been learned and/or reinforced which are responsible for how he/she manages aggression. Temperament is one part of the personality that has been linked to genetics. There are three identified temperaments a) flexible or easy (go with the flow mentality) which accounts for approximately 60 percent of all children; b) the next being described as fearful and sensitive which can be attributed to 25 percent of the childhood population; c) and the remaining 15 percent are considered to be feisty or difficult.
- Why are children aggressive? Many children lack the social skills and self-control to manage their behavior. They become frustrated when they are unable to find the right words to express themselves and act out accordingly. They may take their frustrations out on individuals who are not directly related to the problem(s) leading to the frustration, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the right time.
What does aggression look like? In infants, typical behaviors associated with aggression are crying and biting. On the contrary, the happy child is demonstrative of cooing and babble. In toddlers, most aggression takes place over toys and should NOT be confused as children learning how to get along. At the preschool age children are less likely to demonstrate aggression as they have learned to communicate their needs. However, if a child has aggressive tendencies, they will appear via hostile interactions with classmates. By the time children enter school and usually between the first and third grades they are more capable of controlling themselves and their actions. Whereas they may hit a sibling, they aren’t likely to strike a friend at school. Aggressive children at this age are more likely to slam doors, stomp their foot and even yell and will occur at home as well. By the fourth grade, children who continue to demonstrate aggressive behaviors will typically continue to behave aggressively into their teenage years and will be in the form of direct confrontations and physical attacks in males. Females, on the other hand, will refrain from physical forms of aggression and will lean toward shunning, ostracizing and defaming others.
- What can you do? In younger children, parents should be positive and consistent in their modeling correct behaviors, and nurturing in order to teach appropriate coping skills and offering support and ways the child can express their frustrations in more acceptable ways vs. aggressive, hostile and antisocial acts upon others. Let the child know that the inappropriate behavior(s) will not be tolerated and that they have appropriate choices and methods that they may use when feeling frustrated. Any time an aggressive action results in the destruction of property and/or hurting another, the child will need to review his/her actions, apologize and make restitution for damages.
- Extreme Cases: Some children will obviously be more difficult to assist in modifying their aggressive tendencies than others. In such instances, it is best to maintain a journal/log of the triggers resulting in aggressive behavior. I utilized this extensively within my classroom and it allowed me to recognize, in advance, situations before they escalated. Share the information that you obtain with the child’s parents and/or caregiver to determine if they notice similar triggers at home. Certain aspects that we aren’t aware of can actually be causing the frustration. For instance, the environment in which your child spends a great deal of time can actually be causing anxiety for the child. Perhaps the room arrangement is unacceptable to the child’s need to have freedom to move about without obstructions, maybe he/she feels crowded or is claustrophobic, or maybe he/she just needs more time to move about freely without being required to sit for extended periods of time. Believe it or not, this can be quite difficult for children. If you’re a teacher, I’d recommend preparing a plan of action which specifies consequences for the child’s negative behaviors should they occur. Establish a list of acceptable activities that the child can call upon in the event of frustration to help calm the child and reduce the likelihood of an aggressive outburst. Recognize success EVERY time the child is able to control his/her aggressive behaviors. Praise him/her for making better choices. It is important that you teach the child calming techniques such as deep breathing and visualization/relaxation exercises. If the child does not respond to your strategies, you may want to consider seeking counseling.
Although our next specific misbehavior can be linked to aggressive behaviors, it doesn’t mean that the child will not outgrow the inappropriate response.
Hitting & Biting:
Most typical in infants and toddlers, it is another response to frustration and/and or stresses that the child is unable to communicate about. Obviously, both can result in a great deal of pain to the victim. Infants, although unaware of the pain that they are inflicting, will often bite their mothers. Sometimes this occurs when they are teething and nursing and sometimes for the mere reaction that they’ll elicit.
Hitting and biting are both very primitive ways of handling frustration and must be handled in an effort to prevent the behavior from recurring. Often it occurs with little or no warning when a child has reached his/her capacity from handling a situation that is no longer within their control. As parents, teachers & caregivers we must teach children how to maintain control when handling intense emotions.
- Hitting and biting will not go away over night. In fact, it may increase temporarily while you are attempting to teach the child acceptable and unacceptable methods for dealing with frustrations. The best way to handle situations such as these would be to wait until a “calm” moment after the infraction has occurred. Discuss why hitting and biting are not acceptable ways to let others know that they are angry or frustrated. Along with the child, demonstrate how ridiculous their actions appear to others. A lot of times when a parent assumes the role of the child and pretends to react inappropriately the same way the child demonstrated moments earlier, they will be able to recognize that they need to handle the situation differently.
- Allow the child to help brainstorm other “acceptable” alternatives like perhaps hitting a pillow or squeezing a beanbag; or holding his/her breath and counting to ten. Whatever you deem appropriate and necessary will assist the child in learning to handle his/her emotions in a better way.
- Teach the child self-soothing methods that can be implemented before he/she explodes. Self-soothing can be anything from removing him/herself from the situation and coloring a picture; perhaps listening to calming music; or even going for a brief walk (depending upon your location). I’ve even heard of parents & teachers having a specific area for “cooling off”. Again, you’ll have to customize the approaches to your surroundings.
- Finally, if and when a child has lost control and is unable to calm him/herself, physical restraint is sometimes necessary. When restraining the child (somewhat like a bear hug) you’ll want to calmly remind the child that people aren’t for hitting and/or biting. UNDER NOT CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD YOU RESTRAIN THE CHILD WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOUR ARMS AND LEGS IF NECESSARY. REMAIN CALM AND DO NOT LET ANGER DICTATE YOUR RESTRAINT.
- Never, ever hit and/or bite the child to teach them that the behavior is inappropriate or painful. This may confuse the child and certainly may result in feelings of fearing those with whom they are supposed to trust, respect, admire and feel comfortable.
Next on our list of specifics will be that of handling the defiant child. Having to deal with outright disobedience is a job that we all dread mostly because we’ve exhausted our toolbox of tricks and have no more ideas about how to handle it. When dealing with the defiant child, it seems that it becomes nothing more than a battle of wills. Who has more will – you guessed it…..your child. Let’s discuss what to do when all else has failed to elicit the desired behavior and/or response from your child.
Dealing with Defiance:
First and foremost, handling misbehavior quickly and consistently is of utmost importance in effectively dealing with this type of behavior. Today I will share with you eight tried, true and tested methods of dealing with “super-charged ugliness”.
- Making certain that the child is immediately made aware of your intolerance of his/her behavior, attitude or action. You want the child to know “up front” that this behavior is not going to continue and will not be tolerated under any circumstance.
- Consequences must be implemented in order to rectify defiance and one-size-fits-all will not work when dealing with defiant children. So, let’s first address site-specific behaviors and the removal of the child. For instance, you and your child are in the grocery store and your child keeps taking things from the shelf and placing them in the buggy. You’ve asked the child politely to replace the items and the child ignores your first, second and final request. What do you do? Without hesitation and with NO convincing, begging or threatening on your part, state clearly what you requested of your child and REMOVE her from the area – in this case, the store. If the child is small enough, pick him/her up and leave. Children will always try and call a bluff. He/she may begin to whine, scream, kick & thrash around like a fish out of water as a form of emotional blackmail. If you do not provide the emotional response the child is attempting to elicit the child has no leverage and ultimately receives no payoff. This allows the child to see that you mean business, no matter what. Your ability to maintain your cool is mandatory. Removing your child after specifying clearly that he/she failed to listen and follow your instructions will make it clear to your child “WHO is in control.”
- If the behavior is not site-specific such as a sandbox, playground, classroom learning center, store, sporting event, practice or party, etc… and removal of the child will not be an effective method of handling the defiance, you’ll need to create consequences that will “motivate” and/or “inspire” your child to behave appropriately. For information on establishing consequences, review Part III of Positive Discipline from A to Z, on Accountability & Consequences. NOTE: As you read the recommended article, pay careful attention to the portion that suggests that the consequences be directly tied to the misbehavior in question – especially the loss of privileges.
- Expanding the consequences is another effective tool in modifying the defiant child’s behavior. For example, your child who is attending a skating party and begins acting out of line is reprimanded and told that as a result of his inappropriate behavior he’ll/she’ll have to miss the next party. Additionally, as a clever tool, you take a photograph of your child misbehaving so that you’ll have “substance” when the next invitation to attend a party arrives. Without allowing your child an opportunity to object to the “consequence” you whip out the photo providing a reminder to your child of his/her misbehavior at the last party and the resulting consequence of missing this party. The child immediately is made aware of your intent to “follow through” as well as the recognition that it was his/her behavior that elicited the consequence.
- Count down is another method of handling defiant children but only if you will follow through when you reach the “target” number. Parents who utilize this method indicate that counting backward with “zero” as the final number is more effective than using five, six, seven……as the destination. Although with younger children this is effective, I prefer to provide the children with a time limit in order to allow them to complete whatever they are doing within reason. For instance, an older child that is playing a card game who has been instructed to take-out the garbage. Obviously accommodating your child while respecting the fact that he/she is involved in a game is something you want to do while at the same time making the child aware that you will not wait and/or be tolerant of the game lingering. By establishing a reasonable time frame for example in this case of 5 minutes, within which the child MUST take out the garbage you’ve reduced the occurrence of defiance as the child will recognize your empathy and consideration.
- Empathizing with your child letting him/her know that you understand how he/she must feel and that you recognize that they are frustrated. Providing examples to your children of situations in which you’ve found yourself feeling frustrated and how you handled the situation at hand. This method will not work for all children but is certainly worth an attempt if only to let your children know that you have listened to them and understand what they are attempting to communicate to you. Empathy should be used when /and if you feel that there is an underlying reason for your child’s defiance and behavior. For example, a child that refuses to get up from a cushion that he is sitting upon when in the presence of others might be an indication that he/she has soiled their pants and embarrassed about moving. Or perhaps a child that is vehemently opposed to riding the bus to or from school may be experiencing some type of bullying or abuse and is refusing your insistence to avoid further trauma. If you suspect there is something that your child is reacting too, you need to calm your child and encourage conversation with him/her.
- Laughing off the behavior as a form of distraction from the bad behavior is a very effective tool when dealing with toddlers. Some children will behave defiantly to gain attention because they simply want attention –negative or positive in nature. Turning the negative(s) into positives through the art of distraction is an acceptable way of resolving potentially troublesome behaviors.
- Making deals (aka bribery) is a form of negotiation which can have both negative and positive outcomes. If parents choose to implement “deal making” it should be used sparingly or you will ultimately pay the price. However, if the behavior you are attempting to rectify is predictable behavior, such as wanting a glass of water or bedtime, or having a light remain on so that he/she can read, perhaps a small negotiation is in order. For instance, your four year old wants to sleep in the bed with you and your husband each night (big no-no) and promises that if you’ll let him, he’ll go to sleep right now instead of fighting the fight that you know will ensue. Perhaps, allowing your child 15 minutes of “snuggle time” in your bed with the understanding that he’ll have to return to his bed in 15 minutes for bedtime is in order. Not only will this allow “settle down” time but it will provide him the attention he desires as well as preventing the struggle(s) which might otherwise occur.
- Do nothing or so it might seem. Sometimes underlying factors such as exhaustion, hunger or illness can make even the most easy-going children more like dealing with a hungry bear in that no matter what, they will behave unruly and out-of-control. Occasionally this type of behavior will occur when you are unable to do anything about it such as when you’re stuck in traffic or perhaps in the middle of a doctor(s) appointment. Remaining calm is the key. However, when you are in a position to handle the matter, handle it. Consequences should be enforced regardless of the reason for the misbehavior with a little lesson about how the child could have handled his/her hunger, stomach ache, etc…more appropriately the next time.
Sometimes children will effectively deal with their defiance on their own such as in the case of the child refusing to take a nap although he/she can barely hold themselves upright. Chances are, the child will eventually succumb to slumber without you having to lift a finger.
Next to defiant children which rates as number 1 on the scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the most difficult type of behavior(s) with which to handle comes disrespectful behaviors ranking number two. Whether it be the teenage daughter that rolls her eyes after every word leaving your mouth or the pre-teenage son that calls you stupid when you enforce consequences, it isn’t easy to swallow. Respect for authority is highly regarded in every culture even though it is demonstrated in many different ways. Regardless, however, is the fact that disrespect is both hurtful and something that should be dealt with immediately and consistently to modify its use and frequency of use. We will identify several methods for handling children demonstrating disrespectful behavior(s) to you or others.
- Remain calm. As difficult as I know this is, it must be done if you intend to handle the situation. Becoming angry, which is probably justified, will ultimately result in making matters worse for both you and your child. Once you’ve calmed yourself in whatever manner you feel is necessary and effective, you will be ready to respond in a fashion that will be much more productive.
- Provide feedback. Tell your child how what he/she has said and/or done makes you feel. Speak calmly and in a soft tone while maintaining eye-contact with your child providing specifics of his/her infraction such as, “When I asked you to turn off your television you rolled your eyes, said whatever, and continued watching. (Immediately, although using a calm demeanor, turn off the television). This suggests to me that you don’t care what I’ve instructed you to do and consequently you have hurt my feelings and made me angry.” By following the pattern of feedback above, you have identified your child’s unacceptable behavior(s); modeled self-control while expressing your feelings of hurt and anger; and made him/her aware of the fact that you aren’t going to allow the behavior to continue.
- Refocus – Stay on Track. Teenagers behave disrespectfully in an effort to throw parents, teachers, and caregivers off track. They believe that by flustering you when you’re telling them or requesting them to do something, you will forget about the original request and be forced to deal with the disrespectful behavior. It typically works as parents become disillusioned over “what he just said”. Don’t be or their plot against parenting will be effective. Whatever you do to deal with the disrespectful behavior should be immediately followed by repeating whatever your original request was, i.e. “I’d like for you to pick up and sort your dirty laundry.” At this point your child will attempt to engage you in some form of argument by launching disrespectful comments. Remember step one (remain calm). Employ Step II (provide feedback) identifying the disrespect and restate your instructions, “I know you’d rather ignore my request as you don’t feel you should be required to participate in caring for your clothes, but you still need to sort your dirty laundry.”
- Behave like the mature adult that you are and resist the temptation to retaliate. Anger leads us down a very dark path to destruction. As angry as your child’s words and actions are never respond with “putdowns” or words intended to “get even” i.e. “smart mouth”, “spoiled rotten brat”, etc…Name calling will only worsen the situation and create resentment which will often justify your teenager calling you names in the first place.
- Listen to your child. Although your teenager may have elected to use the wrong approach, tone and words in expressing him/herself to you, he/she might be attempting to tell you something that has merit. You will want to paraphrase to your child what you’ve gained from his/her tongue lashing in an effort to turn a confrontation into a conversation. This will show that you are willing to listen to his/her perspective as long as it is handled appropriately in the future.
- Close the door on this chapter. After you’ve handled the situation and apologies have been made or punishments served, do not rehash the event as it will not encourage appropriate behavior. Move forward and focus on positives. When teenagers see that by communicating in a more appropriate manner, they’ll be less likely to be disrespectful.
We’ve addressed some of the most difficult behavior(s) that challenge even the most knowledgeable, skilled and trained child behavior specialists – this group including parents and teachers. So let’s focus our attention on the last remaining behavior of our top five, temper tantrums.
Some parents may have never experienced their child throwing a temper tantrum while others may have to deal with them repeatedly throughout the day. What is a temper tantrum you may ask? A temper tantrum is a sudden, unplanned display of anger and frustration. Sometimes tantrums are thrown in an effort to demand attention while other times it might be thrown because the child is unable to effectively communicate his/her needs.
What does a temper tantrum look like? Temper tantrums, although come in a variety of displays, frequently involve crying, yelling, swinging arms & legs, falling to the ground, rolling around, kicking and whatever other “attention grabbing” moves and sounds a child can summon from within. Tantrums may last anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes and typically are more intense when they first begin (as the child becomes tired and/or doesn’t gain the attention they desired).
In extreme cases, temper tantrums may become violent and or severe enough that the child will hit, bite and pinch others with whom they come into contact, although this is typically reserved for parents and caregivers. Children between the age of 1 and 4 are more inclined to throw temper tantrums although older children and some adults have been known to do so.
What causes children to have tantrums? Tantrums can be thrown for a variety of reasons but typically it is a normal response when a child is unable to gain his/her independence or is not able to learn a specific skill, i.e. coloring within the lines; tying his/her shoe; or even buttoning a shirt. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to tantrums including how tired a child might be, a child’s level of stress, and even problems that might stem from physical, mental or emotional issues.
How to Handle Temper Tantrums: Tantrums are affected in large part to the responses they get from parents. For example, if a child wants a box of cereal and his/her parent tells them no, they go into whiny gear. If the answer is still know they throw a full-blown temper tantrum in an effort to gain what it is they desire. If the parent gives into the demands of the child throwing a temper tantrum, the child receives the desired reward and the behavior will definitely be repeated.
Effective methods for dealing with tantrums:
- Ignore the tantrum. Be aware of the triggers and help your child learn how to deal with the anger and frustration of his/her inability to “get their way” or “do something they are incapable of doing”. Allow the child to throw the tantrum if that is the only way to calm them. However don’t acknowledge the tantrum while it is underway (unless your child is in danger of hurting him/herself or others) and this includes watching, making eye contact or speaking to the child. Upon completion of the tantrum, identify the problem that led to the frustration and tantrum and help your child determine a solution. For example, if your child was unable to button his/her shirt, practice alongside him/her until they attain success.
- Isolate the Child. If you are at home you can either allow the child to throw the tantrum wherever he/she begins OR you can carry the child to a safer location such as a crib, playpen or her room. If you fear for his/her safety, remain close but do not participate.
- Remain calm. A child in the throes of a tantrum is obviously out-of-control on many levels. It is important that you stay firmly in control. Do not react with anger, by yelling or spanking your child as this will heighten the situation. Attempt to ignore the behavior to the greatest extent possible.
- Teach your child alternatives to tantrums. Obviously the fewer tantrums you and your child experience the better. So, teach your child as quickly as you can following his/her temper tantrum more appropriate behaviors. Talk to your to determine why he/she was angry or frustrated as obviously the tantrum was a result of anger and/or frustration. Then, concentrate on the tantrum itself making certain that your child knows that this type of behavior is inappropriate and ineffective and solving a problem. Model what he/she can do the next time when anger and/or frustration present itself. Role play is an excellent tool in teaching children more appropriate behaviors by demonstrating both unacceptable and acceptable behaviors. In fact, children will enjoy the humor derived from watching you pretend to be them (once they have calmed down of course). When discussing tantrums, make a point of letting your child know that tantrums are bad – not the child. Children want to do what is right and good. By clearly explaining that tantrums are the wrong thing to do when they are angry, they will have a better understanding of what NOT to do next time. Teach your children alternatives such as how to use their words to express the need for help or to let you know that they are unhappy or angry. Teach younger children how and when to use the phrase, “I’m angry” by having them repeat the phrase after you. Review what he/she will say the next time they become angry to determine if your lesson has been clear to the child.
- Preventing tantrums. After repeated tantrums, you will probably be able to identify certain settings and/or events that lead to your child throwing one. Once you identify the triggers, make a point of speaking to your child prior to the onset. For example, a child that throws a temper tantrum every time you take him/her to preschool will need to be corrected. By talking to your child about the appropriate behavior that you expect of him/her you can potentially eliminate future tantrums. This is tedious and time consuming but the end result will be well worth it. Example: Explain to your child what you are about to do. “We are going to school in a moment.” Next, tell your child the kind of behavior you expect, being positive at all times. “At school today, I know you will remember to use nice words, your inside voice, and use words to tell others how you feel.” Followed by what behaviors you do not want your child to use. “You will not scream at others or throw things because you are angry. When you do these things you scare others.” Your child now knows what is expected of him/her. The next step is to have your child agree to your expectations by saying yes to a series of questions such as, “Now, tell me how you’re going to behave when you go to school. Are you going to use an inside voice? Wait for his/her answer which should be “Yes”. If not, begin again. This procedure may have to occur daily until he/she learns that tantrums are unacceptable.
The good news is that children grow out of throwing temper tantrums as they grow, learn and mature. So be patient. You probably won’t go gray-headed at this point – save that for when your child begins dating and driving.
Dealing with challenging behaviors can be extremely frustrating and upsetting. Knowing a few tricks to help you prevent and/or reduce their frequency is the key to maintaining your composure and sanity. Remember, the first step in handling any situation, whether it is behavior related or responding to an emergency is to remain calm. When you are calm a child is less likely to continue with his/her over-the-top irrational behavior(s). From a calm disposition you will be able to effectively tackle the problem(s) at hand.
This concludes Part IV of Positive Parenting from A to Z. Please check back next week when we will review the five remaining behavioral specifics such as 1) Children that Lie; 2) Screaming Children; 3) Children that Frequently Interrupt; 4) Children that Run Away; 5) Handling Foul Language in Part V.
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