This article is about how to collaborate with children/youth who are non-compliant, and who are perceived as disruptive by the people in their lives. To put the article in a nut-shell: children exhibit challenging behaviours when the demands placed on them, outweigh the skills they have to respond to them.
We need to change our approach! Let’s change the lens through which we view our children from difficult, to a child who is skill-deficient. I’ll wait for you to change your lens…
Great! Now that you are willing see things differently and to consider a new approach to guide your child/youths’ behaviour, I will first explain the strategies you may have been using in the past that might not be working, and may even be accelerating challenging behaviours. I wrote about the differences between discipline and punishment which I will briefly define again.
Punishment: Forcefully stopping inappropriate behaviour and enforcing rules of what NOT to do. This is a quick-fix, short-term strategy which promotes negative behaviours (lying, hiding, explosive), because the child is afraid of getting caught, or are unable to control their impulses and reactions. Children (and adults) often learn to punish themselves, have a low self-esteem, and see themselves as “bad”.
Discipline: Discipline is thought of as guidance; it teaches us what TO do. It is helping children learn to take personal responsibility for their behaviour, and to be able to judge between right and wrong. The emphasis in discipline is for us to teach and for the individual to learn. This is a long-term, productive and preventative approach that nurtures self-esteem and life-long, positive decision making.
We do not want to tell our children/youth what the solution is, impose it on them, and make sure he/she does it. This is the opposite of collaborative problem-solving and causes behavioural outbursts. A very good way to set challenging behaviour in motion is to force our perception of an issue, the solution to solve it, and order them to do it. If we require skills that a child does not have, it will create inner turmoil and we will see challenging behaviours.
Social, emotional, and behavioural issues should be handled similar to an academic issue. If a child has trouble reading, we would figure out why the problem is happening, adapt our approach, and work with the child to promote skill development. This skill development approach is called Collaborative Problem Solving (Greene, 2005). The first step is to figure out the specific issues for each individual child/youth. Here is a user-friendly assessment called the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unresolved Problems created by Dr. Ross Greene: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/sites/default/files/ALSUP%20Rev%2011-12-12%20pdf%20(2).pdf. You can also create your own list.
Once you have a written description of your child’s issues, choose 2-3 to begin working on.
We want to approach our children in a non-punitive, companionate manner, and with a collaborative mindset. We are working together like detectives to figure out the core of the child’s frustration relating to the 2-3 issues you have chosen to tackle first. We are working in partnership with the children in our care and we are working to prevent the reaction or the triggering situation from reoccurring. We want to get good at solving problems together which will take a LOT of practice! Remember, behaviour is a signal that the child is communicating something, it is not the end result. Strive to not focus on the behaviour, but focus on what the behaviour is telling you. “Triggers can best be thought of as problems that have yet to be solved” (Greene, 2015). This allows us to move beyond the behaviour, collaborate with the child to find out the cause, then partner-up to find mutually acceptable solutions.
*Important! Collaboration and problem-solving should not be done in the heat of the moment. It should be done when the child/youth are in a good place emotionally, and the environment is safe and calm. *
Children and youth do well if they can. A trusting relationship with caregivers is the foundation needed to kick-start productive conversations that are age/developmentally appropriate for the person in your care. We must be flexible, actively listen, consider their solutions, practice a collaborative problem-solving approach, have productive give-and-take discussions, model appropriate communication patterns in the home, adapt our own behaviours, let go of non-achievable expectations, be empathetic, consider that their problems are very real to them, work out mutually satisfactory solutions, consider their developmental delays and learn more about them, and work on the skill deficits that the child/youth is able to practice at that time. A good order to organize collaborative discussions is to (1) empathize with their frustration, (2) define the problem and what triggers them, and (3) invite them to find solutions with you.
Sometimes children/youth may need medical or behavioural treatment to prevent patterns of challenging behaviour from becoming a part of their identity, and they form bonds with people who need treatment themselves. It is a good idea to reach out for outside help in these situations. Children and youth need advocates to stand up for them, and mentors to emulate; as caregivers, we have taken on part of this responsibility to do what we can, to guide and teach them how to be responsible and productive members of society, to the best of their ability.
The skill-deficit theme of this article is meant to reframe how we perceive very challenging behaviours. It all begins by putting one baby-step in front of the other and to begin to have thoughtful conversations. Your effort and commitment are truly appreciated and valued.
Reference: The Explosive Child by: Dr. Ross W. Greene (2015).