Q: Is this another one of those posts that promises easy answers but turns out to be much more complicated?
Q: Really? You’re not selling some kind of nutritional supplement or protein powder or something?
A: No! This is real.
Q: Okay, go. But keep in mind that I’m going to make up my mind within the first 50 words.
A: We’re at 65 and you’re still here, so.
Q: (Sigh) Fine, go ahead.
A: Thank you. So, I was going through notes for a presentation I’m giving on managing behavior. And while there are no easy fixes, there is a short sequence of things you can do in response to almost any behavior. Do you want to know more?
Q: Are you sure you want to keep going with this Q and A format?
A: I think it’s kind of peppy.
Q: Are you going to get to the point? Or start talking about comic books again?
A: You’re right, let’s just drop the Qs and As.
Q: Okay then.
A: Sheesh. Maybe I’ll go with bullet points.
Q: That’s a better idea.
- First thing to do is make sure that everyone is safe. Does a child need to move away from other people? Does the child need your help to move? Be sure to let them know. “I’m going to help you move your body.”
- Now, you can get down to the nitty gritty. A child is upset, and now that they’ve had time to calm and are ready to communicate with words, you can support the child’s feelings. Make your best guess about what they’re feeling and name it: “You’re crying. You’re sad about that.” Don’t worry, if you’re wrong they’ll tell you, and either way you’ve moved the ball forward. Also, keep in mind that you’re validating the feeling, not the behavior. But right now is about the feelings.
- The child is feeling safe and supported. The parent is listening. Now you can move on to correct the behavior. Set a limit: “It’s not okay to throw toys at your brother.” Then, present a consequence: “If you choose to throw toys again, they will be put away.” You might need to remind the child about this, especially if they’re younger or their needs are just generally higher. Hold to that limit, though. I you need to follow through, remind the child that the behavior is now a choice. “You chose to be done with your toys. You can play with them again tomorrow.”
Q: Wait! What if you’re back to square one now, square one being crying, hitting, or tantrum?
A: Then, that’s where we are: back to keeping everyone safe. Validate the feelings, hold the limits. The child is loved and listened to but may not get that particular thing they want.
- These things work in the moment, but we can avoid repeating this sequence later by making expectations clear beforehand. Remind the children of the rules for playing safely before they play. There are other ways to change the situation before things even happen: will the child be tired or hungry? Overstimulated and needing a change of pace? Some fresh air? As the adult, you are in charge of the environment, and planning for possibilities can make it easier for everyone.
Q: That was actually useful. Took a while to get there, though.
A: I’d like to point out that long line of Qs.