Children’s behaviour can test a parents patience at the best of times. Challenging behaviour though is a child’s way of expressing a need. Children are amazingly adaptive!
When you start to view these behaviours as adaptations you can start to put in place better strategies for them and you. Supporting children’s behaviour though begins with a strong foundation.
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Here are some effective strategies to put in place to help your child.
Self regulate before anything else!!
You can’t effectively deal with challenging behaviour or support children’s behaviour if you’re dysregulated yourself. Our social nervous system means as humans we read situations based on visual and auditory cues first.
If you are dysregulated and in fight/flight mode your facial features will be harder and more rigid, your voice tone harsh and your movements more erratic. Your dysregulated child will read these signs through their social nervous system, on a subconscious level, that things are not safe.
So take a moment to get yourself in a neutral state. The quickest way to do this is an exercise I call “empty vessel” Imagine you’re full off water. Let out the plug and visualise all the water draining out. Practice it regularly!
Another key exercise is to bodyscan and soften any tense or constricted muscles. Muscle constriction is your body is activated perceived threat response. Soften and lower the pelvic floor area and it’ll send signals to your brain through our ‘neuroceptors’ that it’s safe.
It’s also really important that both parents practice this too. One dysregulated person in a household causes dysregulation across everyone.
Then eliminate basic needs…
If your children are getting whiny you need to firstly ask yourself if they are hungry, dehydrated and/or tired. It might seem obvious but a quick sandwich or a piece of fruit plus some downtime to recharge can work wonders.
Downtime isn’t the same as a ‘time out’ or similar discipline practice. Telling your child to go and have some chill time is actually no different from the chill time you need as an adult when you get in from work.
Key times for chill time or down time :
- Getting in from school
- Returning from spending time with the other parent
- Returning from time at a friends house
DON’T ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS!!Yes I know you want to know how their day has been!!
One of the main periods of time for meltdowns and big emotional outbursts is coming home from school or nursery.
Your child has likely spent all day behaving themselves. This actually takes an enormous amount of energy on their part!
Bombarding children with questions when they get in from school is far more about your need as a parent than their need as a child. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to ignore them whilst they decompress. In fact you’ll get a far better response if you do give them this time to themselves.
If you’re child is older and things have kicked off at school or they’re angry about something which has happened avoid lots of questions here too. Let them decompress first.
Have a snack on hand.
Create a chill out corner for your kids in their rooms. Avoid screen time if you can.
Be consistent with your routine
The lives of children now are more hectic than ever. Since schools have started wrap around care and more parents are working so children are ferried round more than ever by different people.
Yes they are adaptive but don’t think that this doesn’t impact on them. The main behaviours I see with children now are manifestations of anxiety. These are; children needing reassurance of what’s happening next and also rigidly controlling their environment.
As I’ve said before children are incredibly adaptive and they learn behaviours to alleviate or mitigate stress where possible.
I would happily advise parents cut out all after school clubs and just let kids be kids. In the modern world of balancing work/life needs though this isn’t always possible. However you will notice the biggest positive impact on your child’s behaviour and wellbeing if you cut back as much as possible on extra curricula stuff.
Let them chose one or 2 things they love doing and ditch the rest. They don’t need to always be doing stuff. In fact children need to learn to manage their boredom in order to become healthy functioning adults who don’t suffer with FOMO. Learning to be content is a skill that they will learn from you so model it where you can.
Discharge excess energy.
Human beings can not access their social nervous system and down-regulate when there is too much energy in their system. If your child is hyped and overstimulated then open the back door and kick them out to play. If you can’t do that then stop off at the park for some high energy fun time.
Teach them how to do some rapid energy discharge exercises such as kung fu kicks or karate chops. Have plain talking rules in place though that there is not allowed to be any contact with other people when they do this.
Plain talking and keep it minimal.
Your child does not need a war and peace explanation of their behaviour and the repercussions. When your child is over stimulated they are not even in the higher cortical functions of their brain. Even adults who are in fight/flight mode or over stimulated have minimal cortical functioning. Your wordy explanation will be lost and just add to the frustration.
With younger children you can say something as black and white as “no, stop”
If giving instruction say the action you want to see, for example; “walk” rather than “stop running”
Validate their experience
“I can see you’re cross/sad/angry”
Big emotions are normal human experiences and are something we can help our children to manage. If we suppress our children’s emotions and cut them off though we give the message that big emotions are bad.
As a trauma therapist I see daily the impact that suppressed and repressed emotions have on a person. The person who learnt not to cry because dad would get mad, or the person who didn’t get upset because mummy would get upset too.
Those emotions stay stuck inside and cause all sorts of problems at a later date in life.
Don’t join the chaos
Coregulation is the intentional act of firstly self regulating in order to soothe another person through engagement of the social nervous system.
Give an open invitation to heal and repair attachment following any dysregulation. This works with any relationship too!
“That seemed big, wanna chat now?”
“Wow that was a big wobble, need a hug now?”
With smaller children you scoop up and hug, with big children you offer the hug.
Self regulate first > Let them discharge > validate > then coregulate to soothe and reassureFollow this simple formula
Stick to the rules.
One of the main things, when I worked in education, which would negatively impact on a child’s behaviour support plan was inconsistency. This could be from teachers and/or parents. A big one is when one parent sticks to it but the other doesn’t.
As I’ve said before children are hugely adaptive and they will very quickly know which side their bread is buttered on. This will cause further dysregulation in the family and things to escalate again. This can lead to learned behaviours which are manipulative and controlling.
All the adults I work with now, whether they were manipulated or manipulative can trace back their behaviours to early childhood.
One of the main reasons I work with the whole family together when doing family trauma work is to ensure there is consistency with everyone learning self regulation and everyone sticking by the rules.
Notice all these stages actually address your behaviour as a parent! Holding space for your childs dysregulation is much like my job as a therapist. You’re maintaining your inner world of calm to help them navigate their big world of emotions and resulting behaviours.
You got this.