Behavior. Something sets off your child, and the screaming, throwing, crying, or hitting behavior begins. We have all been there. Your panic rises. Somehow, you make it through the moment and on to the next, but there may be chaos left in the wake of the meltdown as a result of negative behaviors. Occasionally, negative behaviors become more than occasional. When your child is displaying persistent negative behaviors, there are a few strategies you can take to get back on track.
Addressing the sensory system is a powerful tool in behavior management and redirection. Engaging in these strategies throughout the day can be a preventative means of managing behaviors, where as bringing these strategies into the moment can assist in calming down an escalated child.
Have your child lay on the floor on their back. Take hold of the child’s feet and push the feet towards their head/pull towards you. This shifting will cause the head to bounce slightly up and down in an organizing bobbing movement. This also allows pressure to be applied to the spinal column and joints in the legs in a rhythmic manner
Turn down the lights:
Bright light wakes our system each morning. Dimmed lights/darkness calms us each night. You can dim lights or move your child to a darker space to reduce stimulation.
Declutter the environment:
Having too many things around can be distracting or overwhelming for children.
Stomp your feet:
Get quick input by a simple movement such as stomping your feet or performing animal walks (bear crawl and crab walk).
Play quiet/wordless background music:
Keeping an environment calm with music is a simple way to facilitate play and organization throughout the day. These can include classical music, tones/white noise, or piano versions of favorite songs.
Putting scented lotion on yourself or the child, or spritzing scented sprays/lotion can be a preferred way to calm the sensory system and maintain mental clarity.
Gum, crunchy or chewy snacks such as apples, carrots, celery sticks, thick rod pretzels, trail mix, or thick smoothies/milkshakes through a straw allows for the management of our taste buds and behavior.
Provide a safe/quiet place:
A safe place or quiet space can be found in a back seat of the car, a tent, a closet, a corner with bean bags, or anywhere that is enclosed. When overwhelmed, a child benefits greatly from having space to themselves to decompress.
- Join a class: Movement and engagement throughout a child’s day is extremely valuable. Sign your child up for a community class such as gymnastics, swimming, karate, or soccer will get the muscles moving and the body calm!
Managing behavior through reinforcement and consequence strategies can be very effective for young children that are prone to outbursts or misbehavior:
Charts help document and remain objective about what behaviors we observe. ABC charts help us determine the cause of negative behaviors. Write down the antecedent (A) what happened before the behavior, the behavior (B) in detail, and the consequence (C) that followed the behavior. Having this data allows us to develop the most effective intervention for behavioral challenges.
Visual (Picture) schedules or verbal schedules given throughout a day help provide guidelines for the day’s events or task expectations. This allows the child to understand what the day or activity will entail. It also allows the child to process what the day/week/month will hold so they can prepare themselves, their bodies, and their abilities.
Using a timer allows the child to understand with warning that an end to a task is coming. The preparation a child can do mentally when forewarned about a transition will increase ease of moving on to the next thing!
A child benefits from a clear goal. This can be achieved by giving a child direct and concrete feedback about their performance through a “behavior chart”.
Having a job:
Give a child something special to do (teacher helper, passing out papers, retrieving a special item, making something specific). This gives children ownership in their actions and helps keep behavior on track!
When we find that “Just-right” motivation for a child, we can allow them to work and behave accurately to achieve the motivating item/action!
“First this activity, Then that activity” strategy tells a child clearly and completely what the expectation of behavior is and doesn’t allow for questions or confusion.
Rewarding positive behavior:
Providing your most engaged, thrilled, and enthusiastic praise to your child for the behavior you expect and appreciate, with clapping, cheering, smiling, hugging, etc. will encourage your child to perform at their best again and again!
Clear expectations of desired behavior:
When telling a child “STOP behavior!”, they may only hear or process the behavior you have highlighted, and/or may not completely understand what you are asking of them. Rephrasing corrective statements to “Do” instead of “Don’t” actions can be helpful. For example, instead of saying “Don’t dump the cars out of the bucket!”, tell them “Keep the cars in the bucket”. Or, instead of staying “Stop running!”, tell them “Use your walking feet!”.
Remain calm (Yourself!):
Finally, the most important thing you can do when you encounter negative behaviors is to keep yourself in a calm state. As our level of excitement/frustration increases, so does our children’s. This causes us to lose our ability to correct with a clear and sound mind. Taking a deep breath, finding our center, and taking a moment to calm ourselves is often the most important step in the path to managing negative behaviors.
Managing challenging behaviors can be extremely difficult, but achieving success in this area can be life changing. If these strategies are not proving to be effective enough to get your days back on track, please contact BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy for a free consultation to get your child out of the behavior blues!
Written By: Margaret Lord, MS, OTR/L