Many of the things parents and teachers do to get kids to behave are not addressing the real underlying issues that lead to challenging behaviors. With the best of intentions, we may actually be making things worse. Instead of building strong, trusting relationships, we find ourselves in power struggles that are alienating our children and students.
There is another way.
Usually behavioral challenges occur when children or students are not meeting our expectations. We expect them to sit still and complete their school work and their homework. We expect them to get along with their siblings. We expect them to help out with chores, to keep their room tidy, to come to the table for dinner, to brush their teeth, to get ready for school on time, to follow our directions.
Some kids can -for the most part- manage all these expectations. The kids who can’t manage them are the ones who end up with challenging behaviors.
In my original training, I was taught to observe behaviors, count them, and modify them through rewards – like tokens, stickers and favored activities – and consequences – like time-outs, detentions, and removal of privileges .
I don’t recommend these approaches any more. Why? Because even if they seem to ‘work’ in the short run, they are based on what I now believe is the wrong premise. They are based on the idea that kids with challenging behaviors are lacking the desire or motivation to do well, and therefore we need to give them more incentives.
Instead, and because of my exposure to Dr. Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions model (CPS), I have learned to think in a new way about behavior problems. I agree with his stated philosophy:
Kids do well if they can.
If they’re not doing well, we need to figure out what’s getting in their way. Usually it has something to do with lagging skills in the areas of executive functioning, language processing and expression, emotion regulation, cognitive flexibility, and/or social competence.
Many children come with these skills already wired into their brain, and those kids are the ones who do well. When a kid is not doing well, rewards and consequences will not help them develop the skills they need to cope with every day life.
In our consultation sessions, we can work together to identify lagging skills, and begin to predict the kinds of expectations that will be difficult for your child to manage. We can proactively include your child in conversations that will not only help your child develop the needed skills, but will also durably solve the problems that were leading to challenging behaviors in the first place. And most importantly, we can work on building a strong, trusting relationship between you and your child at the same time.
It’s simple. But it’s not easy. That’s where consultation can help.