4 Techniques for Managing Childrens’ Behavior

IMG_2990Early in my career, I worked at a facility for children with emotional disorders. We provided services for children ranging in age from 8 to 18. Many of our clients came from juvenile detention and it wasn’t unusual for them to have received little parental discipline or direction. One of the major challenges of the job was getting our adolescent clients through their everyday routine without major blowups, violence, or even having them just sit down and refuse to do anything at all. This was particularly challenging when it came to doing chores, going to school, and going to bed on time. During the first few months at the agency the training regimen is excessive, between behavior intervention techniques, therapeutic crisis intervention, and basic relational techniques. During that time I learned a grab bag of techniques for convincing kids to follow directions or to stop acting badly without resorting to physical intervention. As a parent, I’m increasingly discovering how useful these techniques are in raising and disciplining my own children. Having options when it comes to kids is great because they can be incredibly frustrating. Being able to choose an approach gives you a sense of control that can feel like it’s in short supply when you have only one or two approaches. The following are the interventions that I have found most useful in parenting:
  • 971904_10151370209716599_114566200_nPlanned Ignoring/Positive Attention This technique is based on the assumption that kids sometimes act out in an effort to get your attention or to get you to act in a particular way. Simply put, you do not reward undesirable behavior at all. You don’t cater to it or even acknowledge it. When they do what you want, you lavish praise and attention on them. One of the most obvious examples of this is the temper tantrum. Every morning I dress my 3 year old daughter and take her to work with me. Since she reached the age of 2 she has begun to disagree with me regarding the right wardrobe choices. This sometimes results in a fit of screaming and carrying on. Since it’s in my own home, I’m under no pressure to engage it. So, I usually walk away and let her yell. When she realizes that it’s not working she stops. On the other hand, when she asks for different clothes appropriately, I praise her and listen to her opinion. This approach works best with annoying behaviors when there are no time pressures. It essentially allows the child to figure out that what they are doing isn’t working. If they have a fit in the middle of the grocery store, ignoring it isn’t the right choice. If they are playing with knives, ignoring it is a bad idea.
  • Redirection- Kids have a tendency to lock into ideas or behaviors, not easily letting go. This tunnel vision makes it hard for them to let go of what they are locked onto. This can be inconvenient when they get upset about something they don’t understand, want to do but cannot, or something they just won’t let go of. Sometimes the solution to this is redirecting their attention, getting the child to pay attention to something else that will draw their focus away from whatever it is that they are locked on to. Typically, this involves picking a new area of focus and giving them a reason to focus on it. Years ago I was working with a young man who had become very upset about losing some privileges. He worked himself into a tizzy and was acting out loudly. I sat down with him and began telling him a story about my dog. I put a lot of energy into the story and was animated in my telling of it. I maintained eye contact with the boy the whole time. He slowly calmed down as his focus shifted and he went from cussing and throwing things to listening to my silly story. The story worked because I gave him a new focus, I held his attention through eye contact, and I was energetic and interesting. This drew him away from his tunnel vision.
  • Giving them choices- For some reason, children sometimes decide to just dig in and do the opposite of whatever you tell them. I pick out a shirt for her to wear and she doesn’t want it, no matter what I pick out. Part of reason this happens is because as kids mature they begin to assert more and more control over their environment. This prompts them to simply dig in because they can. One solution is offering 2 or 3 choices, which allows us them to have some control over the situation. The approach applies in all sorts of situations. I’ve had success using this when choosing what to feed the kids, who will read bedtime stories, etc. This approach is mostly effective when the child is resisting based on their desire to control their environment.
  • Hurdle Help- Hurdle help involves turning a large task into small, easily accomplished steps. My daughter struggles with cleaning up the giant messes she seems to be able to make. When directed to clean, she will respond that it’s too much and that she cannot possibly do it by herself. Prodding and pushing only results in her yelling that she cannot do it. Instead, I tell her to pick up one specific toy, for example her toy train, and put it in the toy box. Then another and another. This continues until she is in the process of picking up toys. I’ve used it with older students who were struggling with being overwhelmed by school assignments, like writing papers. Instead of saying: “write the paper,” I tell them to pick out a smaller task to accomplish, followed by another, until the paper is completed. Hurdle help works well in situations when a task or expectation is too much to take on altogether, either because the child is overwhelmed or too stubborn to do a larger task.
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15 thoughts on “4 Techniques for Managing Childrens’ Behavior

  1. love this blog being a father and grandfather of small children as well as a blogger myself,we as parents and grandparents need ways to help control the children’s behavior without violence and involving them in tasks that they can get rewarded is good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. truthtangible says:

    The last situation with cleaning is my daughter to a tee. I will have to try what you have suggested. Nothing else has worked so far. Thanks for the post.

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    • patchingcracks says:

      I usually have to repeat myself a few times to get our out of the “I-can’t-do-it” mindset. Unfortunately, though I did this for years in the clinical setting, I didn’t start hurdle help with my daughter until she had learned that if she hollered long enough I’d clean for her. So, I had to overcome my teaching her bad habits.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Patching Cracks always has words of wisdom for couples and children.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ropheka says:

    My twelve year old niece is very lazy and stubborn when she comes down to stay for a few days. When I try to correct her mom jumps down my throat and then has to discipline her for the same thing about half an hour later. She gets away with everything here and mom spoils her very badly. It has gotten so bad that when she comes down I have to leave the house until she goes home again. Do you have any suggestions for this?

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    • patchingcracks says:

      Sorry if this answer is a little vague. I am short on details regarding what all is at issue. Just reading the issues you cite, this is my response:

      It sounds like you are dealing with mom (sister-in-law?) more than daughter. Until you are on the same page with the child’s parent you will have little effect, because as long as the parent (sister-in-law?) is around your authority is undercut. Kids generally are masters at reading when authority is split. We used to see this in treatment programs all the time. Kids will play staff against each other in order to get away with more stuff. The trick ends up being communication and agreement to be on the same page. In your case this is trickier because it’s about dealing with a child who comes into your home occasionally. Because you are not the parent, there is likely to be some disagreement regarding how much your opinion matters on the matter. That having been said, if there is no unity, the focus needs to be on either arriving at some or establishing an understanding as to how things will work in your home. You really have to tread lightly because folks are pretty sensitive when it comes to child rearing issues. Basically it ends up being lots of affirmation of the parent’s authority and statement of your household expectations. It may even work to ask for input as to how to fix the disparity between behavior and expectations. Even then, you will likely need to pick your battles, which isn’t cool. If the child’s behavior is irritating, rather than destructive or disruptive, you may just end up clenching your teeth. If there is disruption or destruction involved you stand in a stronger position to respond by making it clear to mom that you have house rules that guests are expected to abide by. When the daughter violates house rules, correction will need to take place, whether it is you or the mother who takes it on.

      I may write a post on a related subject for next week, if that would be ok.

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  5. we have such similar backgrounds!!! I used to do the same thing back in the day! Good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That sounds helpful! I will pass this on to my granddaughter, who has a 4 year old daughter. Thanks!

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  7. ropheka says:

    When she comes down I just eave the house. It is moms house and as far as she is concerned and the mother the child is a perfect little angel. For my oen piece of mind I leave.

    Your advice is very good and I thank you for it.

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  8. This is so helpful and echoes exactly what I’ve been in the process of learning myself- thanks so much for sharing this!

    Like

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