Helping a Child’s Behaviour (ie. 6 years or younger)
The ultimate goal is for the child to be able to self-regulate, rather than be regulated by others.
Anticipate problems that may arise before the situation occurs. Often negative behaviours form a predictable recurring pattern. These patterns can be altered by changing what happens before, during, or after the situation. Behaviour Recording Charts completed by the child’s carer/teacher and parents can provide valuable information regarding patterns of behaviour and how to change them. For example, by identifying triggers and unintentional reinforcers of undesirable behaviour. Make a plan to avoid problem behaviours before they occur.
For example, if a child becomes anxious when trying to dress themselves, look at what aspects of the task are challenging, and reduce the demands so the child can experience success. Does the child need a visual routine to help them plan the task (due to planning/sequencing deficits)? Does the child need clothes the next size up or with less fasteners to make them easier to put on (due to motor skills deficits)? Can the parent assist with most of the task and allow the child to finish it off (chaining)? Does more time need to be allowed to undertake the task?
Teach the child to ask for help when they start to feel frustrated.
Positive behaviour support is a very important part of behaviour modification through highlighting and reinforcing desired behaviours. Children can choose a reward or incentive (such as a trip to the playground) to work towards by earning enough stickers/tokens through positive behaviour. For example, one token per year of age.
When child is angry or anxious (1-2 out of 3 for anger or anxiety), reduce talk except to:
- Label their emotions (ie. “You seem a bit upset”)
- Suggest/provide a strategy for them to use before they reach a “3” (ie. keep a bubble mix handy to blow bubbles, a calming book, or special toy that’s kept aside to bring out when the child needs help to calm down.
Praise and reward for using the strategy.
If anger or anxiety is 3/10 (‘meltdown’, ie. banging, hitting, throwing or screaming) minimise talk except to assist them to use ‘Fire Engine gadget’ (physical activity). This could include giving the child a spin in a spinning chair (available from Ikea), a balloon to hit/kick, an inflatable punching bag, or a musical instrument (real or toy) to play such as drums. If they don’t use it, the adult can use the Fire Engine and not talk until child is calm.
The Alert Program Speedo can also be used to identify feelings and to prompt child to intervene at the early warning signs (ie. at ‘fast’ rather than ‘crash’ speed) as an alternative to rating out of 3.
When child is calm (they may need several hours after the ‘meltdown’ before discussion about the problem situation), help them recognise their feelings and rate them, draw a comic strip conversation with stick figures and thought bubbles of what happened and alternative strategies to use next time. Try DECODER problem solving formula if needed. Role play strategy if needed. Praise and reward for discussing, practicing and then trying the plan. (See ‘Secret Agent Society Family Kit’).
If being disobedient (such as when they have solid skills to deal with a situation appropriately and refuse to), count and send to ‘time out/’think and return time’/outside on ‘3’. Counting is for ‘stop’ behaviour (stopping an unwanted behaviour). Rewards (including natural rewards) and incentives are for ‘start’ behaviour (when expecting child to ‘start’ doing something of more than one or two steps involved). Counting can be used for one or two step ‘start’ behaviours. (See ‘1-2-3 Magic’ book).
Slow down the interaction:
If child is not interacting appropriately with their sibling, redirect them to appropriate play ideas. Or comment and label the child’s thoughts, feelings and actions and the impact of these on sibling. Label the sibling’s emotions, face and body clues, and what their thoughts and wants are, in an exaggerated way through your face, body and voice. For example, “Look, Annie is frowning and walking away. She is sad you took the toy, and she doesn’t want to play anymore. What can we do?” Praise and reward for appropriate play. (See www.icdl.com).
Generalise skills and move on to other target behaviour:
As old habitual negative behaviours are broken, and new positive behaviours become ingrained in the child, rewards and incentives can gradually be reduced, and replaced with praise. Over time, praise can be reduced and the child can be assisted to identify how good their body feels when behaving well and managing their emotions so they can start to feel intrinsically rewarded (motivated by feeling good about themselves) and be less reliant on extrinsic motivation (motivated by others). For example, “You shared your toy with Lucy calmly. You must feel really proud of yourself”. They can also be assisted to think reflectively about the positive impact of their good behaviour on the situation, on others, and on themselves. “Lucy was so happy you shared your toy with her. She kept playing with you because she was having fun when you were kind to her.”
Remember that there can be an ‘extinction burst’ where for a couple of weeks the undesirable behaviour can get worse. With persistence, perseverance and consistency, the negative behaviours will start to reduce. If they don’t begin to change after a few weeks to a month, consider altering the strategy and then review if it is effective.