Managing children’s behaviours

Last month many of our staff had Behaviour Management training from Jenny Prior, a Speech abd Language Therapist from Wandsworth Early Years Advisory and Inclusion Team. There were some really useful tips that I thought could be passed on to our families at Abacus Ark and I have tried to collate the key points and link them to practical examples of how they work in practice.

Through the training, Jenny explored how behaviour is often linked to a child’s communication development and the better we understand this, the more effective the strategies that can be implemented. Learning through their own play and exploration is a powerful tool and we can facilitate this by letting children choose their own activities and allow them to take the lead in their play. Children will often use more language if we say less and they are far more likely to focus on, and talk about, an activity that they have chosen. If we continually ask, ‘What are you doing?’, ‘What colour is it?’ or ‘How may blue cars can you see?’, the child is being put under pressure to give an immediate answer, to process the question, to find the right words and we often don’t wait for their answers – rather filling in the silence with our own words. Instead we can try to comment on what they are doing: ‘Wow, you are building a tower with the red bricks!’ or ‘You are colouring in the triangle with two colours and you have a red and a yellow crayon.’ In this way, there is no pressure and the child is more likely to maintain their focus and engage in conversation. We need to be mindful that they may be totally absorbed in what they are doing and do not want to interact and once their attention is broken it is not always easy to get it back. If we want to find out if they know their colours, we can join in their game and say ‘Could you pass me the red crayon’ or ‘I’m going to colour my cat in with the purple crayon’ and they will, most probably, tell you what colour they are choosing. If we really listen and allow them to initiate the interaction, we will often be amazed by what they say!

There are many reasons why our children present challenging behaviour such as, crying when things don’t go their way, refusing to eat, tantrums, not following instructions and it could be that the root cause is because they are hot and tired, hungry and a range of environmental, physical or emotional reasons which can usually be identified. But often it is because the child has simply not understood what is required of them, that they have not understood a specific question/ command or that they have been interrupted.

Adults sometimes use too many words, or give too many commands in one sentence. Keep it simple and to the point and if necessary give one or two instructions, wait for them to be followed before giving the next. Doing things together, where possible, will also be more likely to achieve a positive outcome. Shopping and preparing a meal together or tidying up together can be a fun activity and we can also achieve our own agenda.

We can help avoid challenging behaviour if we remain positive with the children and specify what we want rather than what we don’t want. A good way of avoiding a tantrum when they are getting dressed in the morning is to say ‘Would you like to wear the blue trousers or the brown trousers?’. Give them choices and options and they are more likely to choose one of the items and we are still having control over what we would like them to wear for a particular event. Encourage independence and allow time for them to dress themselves or clean their teeth and this will foster a sense of accomplishment, promote good self-esteem and wellbeing and they will take pride in their achievements and remain positive.

Ignoring bad behaviour and noticing the good is another helpful strategy to combat challenging behaviour but there needs to be an awareness that praise should be meaningful and given appropriately for there to be benefits. Some children have specific triggers and there is usually a way to avoid the negative behaviour by simply changing a routine or changing how we predictably react to a situation or specific behaviour. Children feel safe if they have consistent boundaries in place and we need to be ensure that they understand about the consequences of their actions.

Therefore, ‘timeout’ for a 15-month-old child will probably not work as they may not understand the concept. For this age group, it may be better to let the child know the behaviour is not acceptable and then distract them with a different activity so that that the negative behaviour is not being reinforced. Finally, if we can support the children to find their own solutions to problems and different situations that they may encounter, we are not only going to minimise negativity and promote independence, but we are also helping them build solid foundations for dealing with the challenges they will face in life.

All families will experience challenging behaviour at some stage and sometimes it is good to share to see if others may have strategies that may help. Please remember that you can always talk to the teachers or a member of the Parent Experience Team if you would like advice or practical solutions.

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