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5 Key Principles to Preventing Challenging Behaviors

Let’s face it, children can have big emotions and those big emotions can translate to tantrums and other challenging behaviors. These challenging behaviors however are a part of growing up and if responded to appropriately can help children to develop healthy social and emotional skills.

Whether you are a parent, an educator or a therapist, there are some key principles that you can follow to help minimize challenging behaviors.

Assume ALL Children Can Learn.

Regardless of a child’s disposition or ability level, assume that all children can learn and be successful in all learning environments. Consistent support and patience can lead to a path of positive social-emotional development. Therefore, after a negative behavior is displayed you can create a teachable movement. For example, in a calm manner, show your child what you want them to do instead and help them practice that skill. These teachable moments can also occur after a positive behavior by providing behavior specific praise such as, “I like the way you took a deep breath instead of yelling when you were frustrated.”

Ensure Expectations are Clear and Appropriate.

Expectations vary across people and environments. That is why it is important to be as clear as possible when explaining what is expected to a child. If a child has a difficult time with understanding or remembering expectations, provide visual supports that help to clarify and recall the expectations. Remain consistent in your rules and routines. Children flourish when they know what to expect and what goals to meet. When you are consistent and predictable, you and your child are on the same page with what you expect from each other.

Provide Support as Needed.

The goal is always to prevent challenging behaviors from happening in the first place, so when a child needs support it is important to provide that. By simply modifying the environmental triggers that can lead to challenging behavior, we set up our children for success. For example, if your child demonstrates a sensory meltdown when in a noisy environment provide supports in the form of earplugs or headphones. The intention is to make adjustments in the environment to aid in your child’s success, by minimizing or removing the triggers that lead to challenging behaviors.

Focus on the Emotion or Behavior, NOT the child.

It is easy to find ourselves frustrated with our children when they exhibit challenging behaviors. However, it is helpful to remember that although a child’s behavior and emotions can be challenging or frustrating, the child is not difficult or bad.

Think of the Function.

Think of the challenging behavior as your child’s attempt to communicate. When a child engages in challenging behaviors, they are trying to tell you something. Perhaps they are pulling at you when you are on the phone because they want your attention. Maybe they are crying because you told them no, and they really wanted that cookie. Or maybe they are at the stage of development where they are beginning to show independence or testing the limits of rules. It is our job to support the child in finding a more appropriate way for them to communicate, as well as have the patience to help them navigate the typical challenging behaviors that are simply a part of child development.

Challenging behaviors are not due to a “bad child” or “bad parenting.” Challenging behavior can be the result of many things, including typical child development, developmental delays, delays in expressive communicate or an underlying mental health need and/or the effects of negative life experiences. Sometimes these needs may require the support of a professional such as a speech-language pathologist, mental health professional or a behavior analyst.


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