Some of the most common issues seen in children who come in to the clinic are behavioural. Aggression in the form of yelling, throwing things, and hitting out are the most common complaints.
Such behaviours cause frustration at home, damage to items, loss of friendships and at more extreme ends can result in the loss of school placements.
So what can you do about it?
The first thing to understand is…that all behaviour serves a purpose. That means, that in the absence of an alternative, the ‘undesirable’ behaviour will rear its ugly head…to get a point across - loudly!
Of course, there are many reasons why children (and adults) show anger, frustration, and other challenging behaviours; but notwithstanding more serious causes, the most common reasons children use challenging behaviours are:
- As a way to communicate: “I don’t know how to express my inner feelings using words, so if I yell… I will let you know about the anger I feel!”
- To escape an overwhelming situation: such as “I can’t handle all of the busy-ness of the classroom and I need to leave - asap! When I begin to scream or throw things…i can predict that someone will get me out of here.”
- To have a need met: such as “I am tired….and I don’t want to keep shopping….so if I have a tantrum in the supermarket… then you will take me home.”
Parents are often lost as to what is causing their child to behave in ways that result in so much chaos. They can blame themselves, or experience a loss in confidence. Difficulties in a child’s behaviour can sometimes also be a reflection of what is going on around them, at home or at school. A good way to begin solving the behavioural puzzle is to understand the way our brain works. As Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson describe in their book “The Whole Brain Child”, the following formula will help.
Left Brain = Logic
Right Brain = Emotion
Upstairs Brain = Thinking (Reasoning)
Downstairs Brain = Safety (fight-flight)
Some tips for using the whole brain child approach include:
1. CONNECT (left brain) before REDIRECT (right brain):
Listen to your child’s feelings, empathise…”I can see that you are sad…”, use touch “let me give you a hug”. Once they have calmed down because they feel understood, cared for, seen and heard by you - then they are more likely to comply. Only then, involve them in problem-solving.. “so what could you try different next time to help mummy /daddy understand what you need?”… offer some solutions using minimal words if they are stuck. If they begin to get upset once again, then try connecting again. Wait 20-30 minutes or so before approaching the subject again.
2. Name it to tame it: help engage the logical (upstairs) brain - tell them what is happening so they understand and develop the emotional language to talk about it again in future. “ I can see that you are angry because you had to put that toy away…your arms are crossed and you are scrunching your face”.
3. Use it or lose it: giving your child opportunities to practice their problem solving skills will build their rational brain and help them to gain confidence in their ability to come up with good solutions.
4. Engage don’t enrage: remember, that once calm, it is possible to accidentally trigger another reaction (downstairs brain). Therefore use logic to keep the upstairs thinking brain engaged.
5. Move it or Lose it: use exercise and play to keep their bodies moving, get rid of excess energy from the downstairs brain and help them to stay calm.
6. Rewind and Remember: Later that day..but whilst still fresh, try “replaying the movie”. Talk about what happened, pause, rewind and fast forward to the parts that you need to process with them.
7. Remember to remember: Help your child by practicing the new skills they have learned. “Remember when we get angry…we can try to breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth”.
8. Feelings come and go: use mindfulness skills to teach your child to let go of thoughts…by watching them float by. Make it a game.
9. Sift: What sensations…images…feelings….thoughts….do you notice..when…you are happy?…..sad….angry…..
10. Exercise mindsight: practice self regulations skills - deep breathing, relaxation…make it fun. Give them tools they can use when needed.
11. Enjoy each other: Connection is the most fundamental human need. If your child and you do not feel close to each other, then your influence will not be well accepted. If you have a good relationship then discipline is easier.
12. Connect through conflict: When experiencing conflict, use it as a teaching moment…
Seeking support when normal strategies do not seem to make a difference is important. There is no parenting manual…there is only a school called life. Remember each day that as long as what you are doing is ‘good enough’, then you are doing great. Children are resilient and will blossom given the right circumstances - as Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson teach “Connection before Redirection” can result in many difficult behaviours being avoided!
Credit: Montessori Notebook and Shutterstock for the images.