School Beat: Addressing Challenging Behavior

By Kirsten Myers

Executive Director of Special Services

In transitioning from the school year to summer vacation, you may see an increase in challenging behavior in your child.  This can be extremely challenging and frustrating, especially when it seems like it should be easy for your child to figure out a more appropriate way to behave.   In moments like this, it is important to remember that children continue to use a behavior because it often works for them.

Your child’s behavior is a powerful communication tool that is used to tell you what is needed or wanted.  When a child does not know the appropriate way to express needs and wants, they may resort to challenging behavior, such as excessive crying, hitting, screaming, or biting to communicate.   Challenging behavior gives children the ability to send a message in a fast and powerful way regardless of the negative consequences.  Children will continue to use challenging behavior until more appropriate ways are taught to express their wants and needs.

To change an undesirable behavior, it is important for you to uncover what is causing the behavior.  Usually, children are either trying to get something (such as a toy, attention, electronics), or get out of doing something (nap, eating, chores).  If you know why your child is choosing a behavior, you can teach them ways to communicate in a more positive and productive way.

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Observe – Pay careful attention to what is happening before and after your child exhibits challenging behavior.

Collect Data – Keep track of when the behavior occurs and determine how you might change the environment or schedule to support the behavior.

Make a List – Brainstorm what your child is trying to get or avoid by using the behavior.  The more you observe, the more you will be able to narrow down what is happening.

Teach – Once you have an understanding of why your child chooses the behavior, teach them a new way to behave through role play with puppets, trains, video game characters, or other toys to act out the new skill with your child.  Also, consider reading books with your child and asking questions of the characters to support your own child’s behavior.  Lastly, plan ahead.  Oftentimes children want to know what is planned ahead of time, or be included in the planning.  Schedules are busy and quick transitions can often feel overwhelming.  Provide a verbal or visual schedule for the day/week to support the transitions and offer a special toy or treat to bring with them.

When your child is exhibiting the desired and expected behavior, praise them often!  Children truly want to do the right thing and will often conform simply through repeated praise and encouragement.  Children who learn how to manage these situations are less likely to use challenging behavior to communicate their wants and needs in the future and will feel more confident and independent in the long run.