Sulking, Moody, Control, Attitude, Addicted to Devices & Phones……
Whenever the subject of challenging behavior comes up, I like to invite parents to take the time to consider two questions and one statement. I feel that the answers to these questions and the subsequent discussions, make solving challenging behaviors much simpler and clearer for parents:
1. What is the purpose of the behavior?
2. Is this behavior working to the advantage of the child?
3. No habit is maintained if it loses its purpose.
When babies are born they are totally reliant on their parents. However, relatively quickly they learn the relationship between cause and effect; the most obvious one being – if I cry, Mom appears.
Challenging behaviors usually start to ramp up in the toddler years. Patterns of behavior become established and the challenging ones, if not dealt with at this stage, can quickly escalate into bigger one’s as children get older. When you then add “normal” teenage behaviors into the mix, things can get particularly challenging.
Children are not born knowing how to behave so as they develop will try out many different “behaviors” to establish which ones work and which ones don’t. It is an experimental time period in their lives. Once a certain behavior appears to work, they continue using it and when it no longer serves them favorably, they will try something else. Granted, this seems to be a simple way of looking at behavior but this vantage point is often missed by exhausted and spent parents who look for other reasons as to why their child has behaved in a certain way;
“He was tired and hungry and it is just his temperament, it’s the way he is”
Without doubt, these things will definitely play their part thus making it very easy to over-look the underlying purpose behind the behavior. It can therefore be a bit of an “aha” moment for parents when they realize that recurrent misbehavior is often continuing because quite simply, it is serving their child well. Let’s look at a few examples as seen from the child’s perspective:
“Last time I went to the supermarket and screamed the roof down, I got a packet of Smarties at the check out
Last time I cried and said that I really didn’t like dinner, Mum ended up making me a special bowl of Mac ‘n Cheese
Last time I created a complete stink when I found out that I was going to have to go to Great Aunt Ethels house, I got to go to Jimmy’s house instead and I got to play with him for 2 hours
Last night when I came downstairs after I had been tucked in and said that I wasn’t tired, I got to play another game on the iPad
My parents set up these digital house rules. It was tough for me at the start but pretty quickly they kinda forgot about them and now my phone is back in my room again at night. They never stick to the new limits that they set for me
The last time I really nagged and begged by parents to let me stay out later, I got to stay out for an extra hour”
In isolation and here in this context, it is easy to see that these behaviors may well be repeated because the last time they were used, they worked, and for parents, it is often just easier to give them what they want in order to keep the peace. The only way to elicit change is for the behavior to no longer serve the child positively and for us as parents that means being consistent with our message, actions, limits and consequences in dealing with it.
I encourage you to look at recurrent patterns of challenging behavior that you would like to change and try looking at them through this lens. After all, once a behavior no longer serves us any purpose, we do not usually keep using it. However, I may add, children will try a behavior out repeatedly and play the same tape over and over again, fine tuning it here and there, tweaking their case to push us to see if we will cave. If we don’t, they will usually give up on it and move on to something else!
My advice is to try and nip challenging behaviors in the bud at an early age because the chances of them escalating into bigger ones as the child goes into adolescence will be greatly reduced. For example, control challenges is not something that a child will grow out of, in fact, the opposite is true; it will get worse. The quote below is not an occasional thing that I hear from anguished, concerned parents in my practice as a Parenting Advisor.
“If I look back, even from a young age, my son was always the one who wanted the red cup when given the blue one, wanted ketchup once I had put it away. We often just gave in to him because it was easier; I guess he always had the control. I thought it would go away once he grew up. It didn’t and now his attitude is starting to affect his school work and the relationship with his teachers. No one can make him cooperate. We just don’t know what to do, we are at our wits end. He is 13….”
If you have any challenging behaviors that you might want some advice on, I would be happy to hear from you and hopefully help you out.
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