Behaviour is the way someone acts or conducts themself, especially toward or around others. When discussing children’s behaviours, we often find ourselves using the terms positive and negative behaviour or appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.
Difficult Behaviours and why we act so quickly around them
Children may at times display negative or inappropriate behaviour. As parents and adults, our first thought is to react to this behaviour straight away to try to cease it, because it is not considered appropriate in the current situation. The behaviour may be having negative effects on other people or their thoughts about the child or about us!
Why do behaviours occur?
Behaviour occurs for many reasons. The reasons we behave are called functions. There is often a function of every behaviour we see or do. The function is the Why. A person may be trying to gain someone’s attention, seek control of a situation or express their thoughts or feelings, none if which are wrong. The difficulty some children may encounter is in understanding how to use positive and appropriate behaviours instead.
Noticing why behaviour is occurring is extremely important. We need to know why behaviour is happening and what a child wants, so that we can assist them to gain this in an appropriate way.
When children have not independently clued onto how to behave in a positive manner, to get what they are after, they may continue to use negative behaviour because this is what they are familiar with… and maybe it has been working for them so far!
Proactive and Reactive Methods
Reacting to behaviour to try to stop or reduce behaviour after it has occurred is surprisingly called… a reactive strategy. Reactive strategies can include giving verbal feedback to a child or a fair and logical consequence occurring.
Teaching a child a skill (like how to gain something in an appropriate way) before the child is in a situation is called using a proactive method. Using a proactive strategy gives a child the appropriate behaviour to use, and gives them the best chance to demonstrate a positive behaviour. They then have a better chance of what they want, which will encourage them to use the desired behaviour again.
Do we need a more systematic game plan?
If you find that a negative behavour is occurring again and again, and you can’t seem to redirect the behaviour to something more appropriate, these tips may help:
- Take a step back and observe the behaviour for a little while. This will help you to observe what the child is feeling and will give you a moment to make a small plan of how best to manage the behaviour. It also gives you a chance to think before you act!
- Once you have observed, think about what the child is trying to gain in the situation.
- Do they want someone’s attention?
- Do they want to be in the ‘drivers seat’ of the situation?
- Are they trying to communicate a thought or a feeling?
- Are they trying to release frustration?
- Are they trying to regulate themselves or self-soothe?
- Are they trying to avoid something?
- Once you think you have pinpointed the function (and we are not always right, of course), think about what you can do reactively to respond to the behaviour to reduce it and also support the child in that moment.
- Now let’s think about what you might do in the near future (proactively) to assist the child to increase their skills for the next time they are in a similar situation. Guide the child toward practicing an alternative behaviour; a positive skill, in preparation for the next similar situation.
- Keep in mind that the best method is to be Proactive. What skills can you teach to your child before the moment to assist them to feel confident, heard and happy?!
Knowing how to respond to behaviour, to encourage positive skills, and discourage negative behaviour is a tricky task. Every child is extremely different and will be encouraged and discouraged with varying methods of adult responses. If you have noticed difficult behaviours and would like some assistance to increase your child’s skills and to encourage positive behaviours, please contact us - we are here to help.
Leanne is a Hopscotch & Harmony Psychologist who has a special interest in helping young children develop social skills and emotional regulation. She supports parents and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, including Aspergers, to learn life skills and improve well-being.