Anxiety. Depression. Attention Struggles. Learning Challenges. Mental health concerns in our children are a constant issue facing parents and educators alike; even in our youngest of learners. Along with these challenges, these children often present with some of the most challenging behaviors as well. As a result, many of these children, as well as those without a diagnosed mental health concern, have difficulty with emotional regulation, attending during class and managing disruptive behaviors.
As both a parent of children with these struggles, as well as a professional working with families working through these challenges, one thing has become very clear to me. Kids do not want to misbehave! When children engage in problem behaviors, we need to view this as a skill deficit…just as we would reading, math or writing. They are simply lacking the coping, social skills or self-regulation tools to work through situations that they find difficult. We can help them by recognizing that all behaviors communicate something to us. It’s our job to interpret the true meaning (or function in the behavior world) for the behaviors and provide alternative solutions to help teach more appropriate replacement behaviors.
Helping a child change his or her behaviors can be done and we will see much faster and consistent results when we focus on the positive! Set children up for success by creating an environment that they feel supported. Connect with them. Spend time just listening. Enjoy them! Be a detective; pay attention to what replacement behaviors are most needed and create a plan to effectively teach these new skills. Most importantly, reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! Intentionally find the positive interactions that the child demonstrates and provide specific praise for these behaviors. When teaching a new skill; whether an academic, social or self-regulation task, remember that it may take many repetitions and lots of reinforcement of the desired behavior before the child masters it. Often, all our children need is to experience just a bit of success and feel connected to others to turn around those unwanted behaviors. Remember positivity breeds more positivity…when children feel well, they behave well!
Michelle Hass, Parent, Speech Language Pathologist & Behavior Analyst