Handling Challenging Behaviors

I know those behaviors are exhausting. Some can even be harmful or embarrassing. I feel your pain, and I've experienced some of the worst meltdowns too. You are not alone. All parents have to prepare themselves for occasional meltdowns and bad behaviors, but you aren't the average parent are you? You probably have a child who is melting down multiple times a day; maybe even throwing things, screaming constantly, kicking, hitting, and maybe even running away. You wonder, "how do I make it stop?!"

Unfortunately some of the best intentions are not the most helpful. Many therapists recommend extinguishing behaviors or redirecting. But these methods do not solve the underlying issue and are often temporary fixes.

You see, there are so many reasons below the surface, that you might be missing. Take a look at this picture of an iceberg. The top portion, above the water, is just the "tip of the iceberg." But look closely below the surface; you'll see there's an even larger portion of the iceberg underneath. Imagine that the top portion, the part above the water, represents your child's behaviors. Those are the actions, reactions, and attitudes you're seeing above the surface. What's below the surface, are the reasons for those behaviors. They are not visible unless you swim down deep, and look for them. They are hidden below the surface. These are things like sensory processing difficulties, speech and language delays, cognitive delays, fears, anxieties, motor deficits, and more!

If we target the behavior as the main issue, we are missing all the "why's" below the surface. And in the long run, the reasons aren't going away, which results in more behaviors in different forms. You "extinguish" one behavior, and the same "why" keeps resurfacing as a new, sometimes even more challenging behavior. Let's use the example of Johnny. Johnny keeps throwing his fork, spoon, dish, cup (whatever is hard) onto the floor at meals. You tell him to stop, you take the items away, you give maybe even yell or punish him for throwing them down after you've asked him to stop. Now you've found yourself giving him his food on the table without utensils, a plate or a cup...yet he still finds things to throw on the floor. It's all escalated to screaming, crying, and meltdowns from both mom and child.

What if, we stop and look below the surface, by asking a few questions: Does Johnny like to throw hard items on the hard floor because he enjoys the sound it makes when it hits the floor? Does he like the way it looks, falling from his high chair? Does he like the reaction he gets from others? Is he learning that when he throws something, someone always picks it up? Does he dislike sitting strapped in his chair, and throwing items is his way of communicating that, since his language is limited? Is he not yet ready for utensils, cups, and plates, because his motor skills are delayed? These are jus some of the reasons that might be lurking below the surface. The behavior you're seeing is the throwing, but the "why's?" are not yet understood.

If we ask ourselves these types of questions, thus looking below the surface of the behaviors, we might just find the reason. And that's where we can start to change a behavior.

For help deciphering the behaviors you may be observing at home with your child, check out our parents' course: C.A.R.E. for Parents and join our community of support! Have 45 minutes? Here's a free mini-course on Challenging Behaviors below...

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