Addressing Behavior Problems in Children
Rule Out Medical Causes First
All children can be challenging some of the time. Most children will respond well to simple, consistent behavior management methods. However, if your child is unusually challenging or a danger to himself and others, it is important to seek a medical evaluation to rule out medical and/or psychiatric causes. No amount of behavior management will work on a child who is in need of medical intervention. However, a child who is in need of medication and receives it, may then be able to respond appropriately to behavior management techniques.
Handle Tantrums Firmly and Consistently
What are dangerous and unusual behaviors?
A child who is openly and willfully rebellious and purposefully disobedient may be exhibiting dangerous behavior, especially if his disobedience leads him to engage in activities like crossing the street, playing with fire, climbing into dangerous places and so on. Moreover, if your child purposely harms himself or others (other children or animals) this is dangerous behavior that needs to be addressed. Additionally, children who do not care about the consequences of their behaviors are sending up red flags that may indicate they are in need of medical intervention to get their behavior under control.
Once you have had your child evaluated by a physician and possibly a child psychologist or psychiatrist and have either ruled out the need for medication or begun a course of medication, it is time to look at behavioral intervention. One method of behavioral intervention that I have used with success is the ABC method of behavior management.
The ABC Method
ABC stands for antecedent, behavior, consequence. With this method, the parent or caregiver begins by observing the child's behavior and charting it. This doesn't have to be anything fancy. You can use a spiral notebook or a big calendar. The most important thing to keep track of is when behaviors happen, why they happen, and what the child seems to get from the behavior.
- You want to watch for the antecedent - what happens before the behavior?
- The behavior, itself - what is the behavior? What does it look like?
- The consequence - what happens after the behavior? What does the child get, and is it something that he actually wants? If so, is there an appropriate way to get it?
This may seem like a lot of work, but really it is just a matter of being observant. You will be surprised by the patterns you will uncover when you watch your child for awhile and chart his or her behaviors. For example, you may find that your child plays fine with others for half an hour, but after that period of time, he or she always causes a fight or hurts the other child. This may result in the other child being sent home or your child being sent to his or her room. If it happens over and over again, you may logically decide that your child actually needs some space after half an hour. This gives you the opportunity to build that space in by either limiting visits to half an hour or being sure to change activities frequently to keep your child from becoming stressed. You might stop rough outdoor play, for example, and provide a little down-time like watching a quiet video and having a snack. When you are able to see behaviors coming and head them off, you avoid the need to discipline.
When you do discipline, keep it consistent, firm, and unemotional. Tell the child firmly and quietly why his or her behavior is unacceptable. Tell it the same way every time. Even if the child has heard it a hundred times before, never vary. Never lose your temper. Never scream, shout or hit. You cannot get good behavior by modeling bad behavior.
Use Natural and Logical Consequences
Decide what your discipline is going to be. Time outs are good. No more than 5 minutes. Sending a child to his or her room is good (unless that is actually rewarding to the child) no more than half an hour. Suspension of enjoyable activities like watching a favorite movie, playing computer games, and so forth is good. No more than 24 hours. Administer these consequences in a firm, kind, consistent, unemotional manner. Do not give the child extra attention or reward his unacceptable behavior by putting on an emotional show. If you are consistent and firm, your child will learn that his unacceptable behavior will only earn non-rewarding consequences.
When the discipline is finished, start over fresh. Review the behavior and consequence with your child once. Forgive him or her, and don't bring up the behavior again. Accept that your child has paid his debt for that behavior and turn the page. Give him or her another complete chance to do well.
Understand that when you begin this sort of method, your child will probably rebel. Behaviors may worsen for awhile as your child tests you to see if you really mean it and if you will really stick with it. Be firm. Be consistent. Never give up on a behavior technique until you have tried it for at least a month. Be more stubborn than your child.
Again, never start a behavior management technique with an excessively unruly child until you have ruled out or addressed any medical causes. This is just spitting in the wind. A child who is in need of medication cannot respond appropriately to behavior management.
This is a brief overview of the ABC method of behavior management. I have used this method quite a bit with children with very severe behavior problems and found it to be very effective. I recommend it highly, and I have included some links that I hope will help you to explore it more fully.
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