Many common behavioral problems can be improved or eliminated by following a few simple principles. In the words of child psychologist Ross Greene, “children do well if they can.” If you can identify which factors stand in the way of your child’s optimal behavior, you are more than halfway down the road to solutions.
What is the real problem? When facing a behavioral problem, consider this question: Is there a deficit of motivation or a deficit of skill? If your child lacks motivation, rewards or consequences are appropriate. If your child is motivated, but lacks the ability to follow through with an expectation, reward/punishment approaches will be useless.
There are many kinds of skill. Many times, children are motivated to please adults but lack the skills to do so. This is easy to recognize if the skill is academic or physical. But remember that flexibility, self-discipline, consistency, and emotional regulation are all skills that need to be learned and practiced, just like math and jump rope.
Make goals specific, concrete and, if possible, visual. Telling a child, “be nice to your sister” is not nearly as effective as breaking down the components and drawing a simple picture for each. For example, being nice to your sister means: gentle hands and feet, sharing toys, helpful words instead of hurtful words.
Check it off. Similarly, visual schedules or checklists can greatly enhance independent performance of self-care tasks. Break down an activity such as “getting ready for school.” Draw a picture, or better yet have your child draw a picture, for each task and have her place a check next to each completed activity. This will enhance your child’s self-esteem and sense of accomplishment as well as making your household run more smoothly!
Become an emotional role model for your child. Children, with and without special needs, need help learning to identify and manage feelings. Whenever possible and appropriate, you can verbalize your own emotional management process for your child’s benefit. For example, “I’m feeling really frustrated that we’ve been stuck in traffic for so long. I’m going to turn on some music to help myself stay calm.”
Translate difficult behaviors into their emotional causes. If a lack of emotional regulation is getting in the way of your child’s performance, put the feelings you see into words. For instance, if your child is having difficulty with a transition, you could say, “It’s really hard to stop doing something when you’re having fun. You feel upset.” Even if you don’t see an immediate response, repeated use of feeling words will eventually become internalized and your child will learn to express himself effectively.”