COMMON BEHAVIOR SOLUTIONS AND BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
Big little feelings is an Instagram account and website with parenting tips for toddlers. The founders are a child psychologist and a parenting coach. There is a paid program available, but they offer many tips and tricks via their Instagram page.
Mr. Chazz has both an Instagram account and a podcast dedicated to parent coaching. He works to help break generational cycles of fear and punishment-based parenting.
The Mom Psychologist is another great Instagram account that has a corresponding website and program.
The Child Mind Institute is a great site with lots of great resources for all ages.
The Institute of Child Psychology offers online courses, live workshops, and free resources to parents.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has free resources for parents
The American Psychological Association has great parent resources. It also has database filled with book recommendations for children as well as parents.
Over the past two weeks we have learned about setting our children up for success, parenting types, and discipline methods. But what do you do for specific behaviors? Should you treat lying differently than whining? And what if your child’s behavior seems inappropriate for their age?
We are going to learn about different recommendations and how to use the previous discipline techniques for specific situations. We are also going to discuss behavior issue and their treatments.
Our first big parenting hurdle regarding behaviors is often temper tantrums. This can occur when your child is around one year of age. As our babies become people with their own opinions and their receptive language skills exceed their expressive language skills, temper tantrums are often the result of this frustration. Temper tantrums are developmentally normal and actually a healthy behavior to see. Toddler’s brains are still developing. This is especially true of areas in the brain that control emotion, thinking, logic and reasoning. Our goal is to aid our child in that development.
First, we need to acknowledge how hard temper tantrums are for us as parents. Temper tantrums are upsetting, sometimes heartbreaking, and often they can cause us to have very strong emotions and responses. Because of this, our number one goal is to STAY CALM AND CONFIDENT. A bigger reaction can result in your child repeating the behavior to elicit that reaction again (remember, they will also negative attention). They also need to have a calm resource when they are having big feelings.
To help them through the temper tantrum, remember the four steps of the most successful discipline technique:
help them identify their feeling, acknowledge the feeling, set the boundary, and HOLD that boundary and give them acceptable behavior. It is very important that once you set a boundary, to hold that boundary. If they learn that pushing harder enough or holding out long enough results in what they want, it will make tantrums longer and harder. Remember boundaries are there to keep your child safe and promote acceptable behaviors. Children feel safer when you set boundaries. It shows them you are in control and it gives their life predictability and a sense of calm and order. For example, if your child is trying to take their sibling’s book and they have a temper tantrum because you tell them they cannot do that you can say “You are angry that you can’t have Sarah’s book. It’s okay to feel angry. We cannot take Sarah’s book. Let’s read this book instead.” At this point, you may be able to read the replacement book or if they are very upset you can work on coping skills as discussed in last week’s blog post.
Sometimes temper tantrums happen because your child is trying to do an unsafe activity like play with a cord, a plug, or climb something unsafe. You repeat the same process as above. “I know you are mad that you can’t climb the bookshelf. It’s okay to be mad. My job is to keep you safe. Let’s read a book instead”. And hold that boundary! Either move on to the new activity or continue working on their coping skills.
We can also try to help avoid temper tantrums. By doing the following
• Set expectations/boundaries and hold them
• Prepare your child for a situation
• Prepare your child for a transition
• Involve them in the transition (setting a timer-they get to help set it and shut it off)
• Give your child control over a smaller decision
All children whine and it drives most parents crazy! And just like most behaviors, children whine to get attention. If they are whining, you can ignore that behavior or calmly tell them you can help them when they use a normal voice. Acknowledge they are frustrated or wanting something, ok that emotion, but reinforce that whining is not a tolerated behavior. If they are whining for something and get what they want from whining (watch any episode of Caillou and you will see this happen), it will only increase their whining.
Times of stress may increase whining (or even “baby talk”) so expect that this may increase during this time. Prevention is your best tool. Give your child a sense of security by trying to stick to their routine as much as possible, provide lots of positive attention, and try to give your child 5-10 minutes of one-on-one attention. These small things can make a huge difference in any whining but particularly during times of stress.
Children from toddlers to teens can be mean. They can say mean things or create situations where someone feels badly. If your child is mean, reinforce that it is not okay to be mean. We can be kind even if we do not agree with that person or a situation. In addition, working with your child at identifying emotions and finding empathy for others can help reduce mean comments. If a child says something mean, first off remember to STAY CALM. This will prevent attention seeking behaviors. When a child is mean it is often because they themselves are feeling a big feeling or emotion that they are uncomfortable with. Help your child identify what feeling they are having and why. Are they feeling anger, frustration, sadness or jealousy. Once they identify the feeling you can work on how to properly address those emotions with their coping skills rather than using mean words or actions towards someone else.
Should your child apologize after saying or acting mean? Child psychologists actually recommend NOT having your child apologize. It has been shown to actually make relationships worse. It blocks the ability for them to feel empathy because usually they are flooded with the emotion that caused the behavior AND anger or resentment. It can also result in a power struggle. Instead, teach a child the work of repairing a relationship after mean words or actions. Discuss how the action or words made the other person feel and if they felt that way, what would make THEM feel better. Or model the correct relationship building behavior for younger children.
This advice will be short and sweet. For young children who repeat a swear or use “potty words” IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE. Any attention you give to swearing will increase the use of the word! Stay calm and do not react. If you must react, you can simply say, “we do not use words like that in our house” and move on. Be flat and boring when you address the swearing. Or if your child won’t stop using “potty” language give them a safe space to get it out of their system, for example, “You can only use those words in your room or the bathroom”. Giving a safe space to say it, as well as allowing it, can often take away the excitement of using those words.
Older school age children but especially teens will often try out swearing more. This is actually an individual family decision. You may allow swearing in your own home but not outside of the home with other adults. Or you may not want your child swearing at all. You get to decide what is right for your family. I don’t think there is one of us out there who has not sworn in front of our children. What we need to teach our children is words have power, but we mostly can decide what power they have. There are words that you never should say, words that have specific situations or audiences, and words that can hurt people even if they are not swear words.
All children lie at some point. Lying is actually a developmental milestone that shows they are learning about language and relationships. It also shows a developing imagination. There are a few reasons why children lie, and each should be addressed differently.
The first reason children lie is because they are exploring their imagination and working on storytelling. They may tell you they saw a unicorn at school, or they are a knight fighting a dragon on the playground. These are obviously benign lies and you should not correct these.
Children also lie to avoid punishment or feeling bad. If they had an unwanted behavior that elicited a big or negative reaction from a parent that caused fear, shame, anger or sadness, they may want to avoid feeling that again. Punishing children using fear, shame, or physical punishments often results in an increase in lying. Long term it also increases the risk of anxiety and depression since children are not taught to work through these feelings without feeling shame or wrongness.
If your child does lie (and especially if you saw it) you are going to do the four steps above: identify their feeling, okay the feeling, set the boundary, and give a related consequence. For example, if your child threw a toy but denies it, the process is the same. “I see that you were frustrated. It is okay to be frustrated but it is not okay to throw toys. The toy needs to be put away now.” If your child is upset, this is the time to work on coping skills.
Sometimes with older children and teens adding an extra consequence for lying can be appropriate. You can even reward honest especially if the honest is about a behavior or action that they know would result in a consequence. It is important to discuss with older children and teens that honesty is part of building and keeping your trust. For example, if your child was using their phone outside of allotted time but admits that they were doing it, the punishment may be losing the phone for a day versus if they lied about it, it may be two days.
It is also important to discuss with your teen why they did the unwanted behavior and how they are feeling. By seeking their feedback and feelings, you are building a strong relationship and gaining THEIR trust. They need to know they can be honest about their feelings and that these feelings are valid. Validating their feelings doesn’t mean they don’t get a consequence but helps your child feel seen. You can also help them problem solve how to prevent that behavior in the future. This helps them practice problem solving.
Lastly, children also lie to make themselves feel better. They may be trying to increase their self-worth, gain approval from a parent or a peer. They may exaggerate an ability or something in their life. If your child lies in this manner, make sure you stress that you love them no matter what, and you love them as they are. You can discuss if that is how they wished they behaved or if that is what they wished they were like. Working on building a connection and increasing their self-esteem so they do not need to lie to get outside approval. And again, based on the situation, a consequence may be appropriate but should be related to the situation.
DEFIANCE AND DISRESPECT
Defiance, which is the act of ignoring you are saying no to a request, is a common behavior, particularly in toddlers but is seen for all ages. It is normal for children to test limits and they will test limits again and again. If your child is being defiant, offer a single warning and a consequence. Here’s the most important part: FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THE CONSEQUENCE. By not following through, your child is more likely to increase their defiance and not take discipline, or you, seriously. And remember, the consequence should be related to the situation.
For example, if you asked your child to shut off the television but they refused and kept watching, you can say “If you don’t shut off the television, you will lose screen time for tomorrow.” Then make sure they do not get screen time the next day and hold tight to that consequence and boundary.
A child who is disrespectful to you or others may name call, try to physically injure the person, or mock the person. This is usually an attempt to get attention. Just like when children use mean comments you keep your reaction calm and without emotion. You set the boundary and enforce that boundary. Also remember, fill your child’s cup with positive attention daily as a preventative measure to defiance and disrespect.
IMPULSIVITY AND PHYSICAL OR VERBAL AGGRESSION
Children who are learning how to cope with big feelings often act impulsively. This means they act out before taking time to think it through. Younger children will often act out physically. Older children are more likely to be verbally mean or aggressive.
Aggression may result in biting, hitting, or throwing objects. This behavior can be seen because they can’t handle the feelings they are having. It also very frequently happens in children who have perfectionist tendencies. Physically aggression if very normal in toddlers because they lack the verbal skills and cognition to react in an appropriate way or to control the impulse. This naturally improves with age and language skills. Older children may say mean things or be verbally aggressive.
For both types of aggression, the script is the same. First STAY CALM, do not have a big reaction. Identify the emotion and okay the emotion. Then stress that we can be angry or frustrated, but we need to be safe, and it is your job to keep them safe. Hold that boundary and work on coping skills to help with the emotion they are feeling. After they have calmed down, discuss making amends or building the relationship with the person who they hurt as discussed in the above section Mean.
Doing work to help prevent impulsivity, especially in older children, can help your child slow down and think when they are having a big feeling or emotion. This work can be fun! Playing games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Follow the Leader all teach impulse control. Also praise your child if they think before they act or speak. Also working on anger management with children can be helpful at reducing behaviors. Again, this involves normalizing feelings but talking about acceptable behaviors for those feelings. This will be family dependent. In some families, loud words or actions may be acceptable where in others they are not. Whatever behaviors your family agrees to must be done with love and respect and not shame and fear. t is also important to model good anger management skills. We want to show them healthy ways to handle anger but also acknowledge and discuss with your child if you make a mistake at handling your emotions.
The other part of preventative work is teaching our children body boundaries. This means if they are touching someone (whether aggressive or not) and that person says stop, they IMMEDIATELY take their hands off that person. Teach them that we stop when someone says stop. On the flip side of this, we need to respect our children’s boundaries. Do not make them hug or have physical contact with someone without their consent. This means if an aunt wants to hug them, they must consent to that hug and not be forced. Teaching body boundaries early helps your child be safe around others but more importantly teaches them to keep their bodies safe.
Behavior disorders are diagnosed when someone is exhibiting extremely challenging or difficult behaviors outside of the norms for that age. Occasional defiant or impulsive behavior is expected at all ages as children are learning, developing, and maturing. Behavior disorders can be situation based or it can be a long-term issue. The three main behavioral disorders we see are Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Behavior Disorders are seen in both boys and girls but most likely to be found in boys. Other risk factors include premature birth, low birth weight, difficult pregnancy, and difficult temperament at a young age. A dysfunctional family life, including witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence, being raised in poverty, being raised by parents with poor parenting skills or who abuse drugs or alcohol. Children with intellectual disability are twice as likely to have a behavioral disorder. There is also an increased risk in children with learning disabilities.
OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER
Oppositional defiant disorder is diagnosed in 1 out of every 10 children under the age of 10. Boys are twice as likely as girls to receive this diagnosis. Children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder may display the following behaviors:
• Easily angered or annoyed
• Frequent temper tantrums that do not resolve with age
• Arguing with adults or authority figures
• Refusing to obey rules
• Annoys or angers people deliberately
• May have low self-esteem
• Low frustration threshold
• Blaming others for their behavior
ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)
ADHD is diagnosed in 1 out of 10 children. It affects boys three times more often than girls. There are three type of ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity-Hyperactivity, or Combined type. Behaviors associated with ADHD include
• Difficulty paying attention
• Making careless mistakes
• Not paying attention to details
• Seems to be daydreaming
• Difficulty with organizing tasks
• Difficulty with school
• Avoids dislikes
• Loses items frequently
• Easily distracted
• Fidgets frequently or can’t sit still
• Moves when or where it is inappropriate
• Leaves seat when expect to remain sitting
• Unable to play quickly
• Always on the go
• Talks excessively
• Blurts out answers
• Difficulty waiting turns
• Interrupts or intrudes on others
• Acts impulsively
• Angers quickly
• Accident prone
Conduct disorder is diagnosed in 1 in 20 children. Boys are four times more likely than girls to receive this diagnosis. One third of children with a diagnosis of ADHD will also be diagnosed with a conduct disorder. A child with a conduct disorder may display the following behaviors:
• Refusing to obey parents or authority figures
• Repeated truancy (skipping school)
• Use of drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol at a young age (often before teen years)
• Lack of empathy
• Aggression towards animals or people
• Bulling or physically abusive behavior
• Perpetrator of sexual abuse
• Frequent physical fights
• Using of weapons during a fight
• Criminal behavior
• Running away from home
For a child to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, your child must be evaluated by a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. There is no lab test or physical exam that can provide a diagnosis. The diagnosis is based on interview with parents, teachers, and the child. There are also behavioral check lists to complete. Any physical or situational causes may be ruled out during this time. To be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, your child must meet the criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) created by the American Psychological Association.
Treatment for the above disorders should be started earlier. If left untreated it can result in dysfunctional adults. Treatment involves therapy, usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Part of the treatment process may involve parental education, family therapy, social training, or anger management training. A treatment plan should also plan for supports for any associated problems, such as a learning disability. Medications may also be used especially in the case of ADHD.
All children will exhibit unwanted behaviors. It is part of development. Our job as parents is to help teach our children to manage their behavior. We have learned the things need to help our child be successful, different discipline methods, how to react to specific behaviors, and behavior disorders outside the norms. If you have concerns about your child and their behavior, please do not hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider.
Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts is a pediatric healthcare practice providing care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions. The Children’s Health Care team includes pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners who provide comprehensive pediatric health care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school aged children, adolescents, and young adults. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care, immunizations, and specialist referrals. Our services include an on on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We also have walk in appointments available at all of our locations for acute sick visits. Please visit chcmass.com where you will find information about our pediatric doctors, nurse practitioners, as well as our hours and services.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.