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  • Brandon Combs

    Tuesday's Child

    Managing the challenging behaviors every kid has

    How parents can respond to kids' difficult behaviors, such as fighting with siblings, shouting and disinterest in good-behavior rewards.


    The interest in the "Managing Challenging Behaviors" workshop at last year's Developmental Differences Resource Fair was so great that we didn’t have time to answer everyone’s questions. Here are some of the questions attendees had, along with some suggestions from the experts at Tuesday’s Child, a behavior-focused program in North Center. Note that this advice applies to kids with and without developmental differences!

    Q: How do I deal with my child's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behaviors?

    A: Consistency is key—when the behavior changes, the parent must always behave in the same way. If the child is upset and unable to control their anger (frustration or disappointment), the parent should use the script she/he developed to help the child identify the feeling and gives the child a developmentally appropriate way to express that feeling. Praise when the child uses an appropriate way to express the feeling.  

    If the child continues to throw the toy (I give two more tries), then I say, "Looks like you can't play nicely with this toy, let's take a break and try again after snack time."

    In the times when the child is playing nicely and behaving appropriately, praise. Shoot for a very high level of praise, 10 praises in an hour that tell the child very specifically what they are doing correctly.

    Q: What should I do with screaming behavior in a child with autism?

    A: When my son with autism screams and runs away, I always go after him, go down on his level. I use a very calm tone and tell him: "It's dinner time. We eat our meals at the table." I bring him back and try to have him eat. I don't force him to eat. I try to be consistent and use a calm tone, keep my words simple and the same.

    In general, I know my son screams when he's excited or angry but can't communicate. I try to be a good observer to try to figure out what the cause is, what happened before. Then I can facilitate him getting his needs met.  If I can’t identify what he needs/wants -- sometimes, a snack is enough to soothe him. Or, I'll try to redirect him to an activity he likes to do such as jumping on his trampoline or  a direct pressure sensory activity to regulate him.. I also try to give him choices as to what he wants to do so he feels more in control.

    Q: How can I stop twin boys who fight all day long?

    A: The parents may want to clearly specify what the limits or "rules" are for their family. A visible chart could be made listing the rules  (We use our words, We cooperate, We ask for help when we need it).

    Teach the boys to use their words and be firm if they don't like what the other brother does. "Stop hitting! I don't like it. That hurts!" coupled with "I want a turn to play with the toy," or "When will it be my turn?". This will allow for the boys to try to resolve issues for themselves. Catch verbal arguments and praise (e.g., “Good using your words – do you need my help?”).

    If the boys tend to fight over the same activity/things, try designating specific times for each child to perform certain activities. For example, on odd dates, one brother gets to pick the TV shows to watch for the day, sit in a special spot at the table/in the car, take a bath first, etc. Then on the even days, the other brother gets to have these privileges. In this way, the parents aren't making the decisions about who goes first or gets to do which activity.

    Q: What happens when stickers don’t work, aren’t appealing, are unreasonable or not possible?

    A: At Tuesday’s Child, we would look at this question as “How to Use Reinforcers Effectively.” First, is the behavioral goal attainable?  Do reinforcers need to be dispensed more frequently? And, is the reinforce something the child really wants, not just something parents will tolerate.  Using positive reinforcers like tokens, or chaining a more preferred activity after a less preferred activity facilitate teaching a child good habits like cooperating with simple routines like dressing, or getting homework done.

    Learn more about our annual Developmental Differences Resource Fair and sign up to attend.

    Brandon Combs

    Tuesday's Child

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