It is easy when faced with difficult behaviour to let it become a battle. As the adult we imply intent which simply may not be there – the child probably isn’t behaving that way just to make our lives difficult.
One of the ways to prevent a battle mentality is to approach with curiosty and ask yourself some questions. I’ve put a few below but I’m sure you ‘ll be able ot think of many more.
Did the child know what they were supposed to do?
Its easy to issue lots of instructions, and sometimes use language that isn’t especially clear or accessible. What does being ‘good’ mean? Being quiet may mean something very different at home from at school or even in one lesson as opposed to another. It is estimated that a number of children have undiagnosed speech language and communictaion needs which may include problems with short term memory
Do they have the skills and emotional capacity to comply?
Children vary in development and some children may lack particular skills, for example social and emotional skills that their chronological peers have mastered. This is especially true for children who have experienced attachment or trauma issues, adverse childhood experiences, or toxic stress. Put simply their brains maynot have developed in the same way and until healing takes place they may not br able to regulate their emotions. The good news is that healing is possible but does need to happen in the right order – you can learn more in this video.
What could have caused their Stress?
Think for a moment about how you respond if you feel stressed. I expect there have been times when you have responded to situations with an outof character angry response because youare feeling stressed or worried about something else. That’s you the adult! If children feel stressed or afraid they may behave in ways that are challenging. Imagine if you werevery afriad of spiders and someone placed one on you. You may well behave in a way that was outof character, even as a rationals emotiaonally well functioning adult. Children may feel anxiety about all sorts of things, and chldren who are vulnerable or who have had adverse childhood experiences may have their ‘stress’ response turned on fairly constantly. So this is a useful question to ask.
What else could be happening in their life?
Not all children come to school having all of their needs met – families are under a lot of pressure and even children who may not be described as vulnerable can have times when they experience difficulties at home, which may cause them to feel anxious. For vulnerable children this anxiety can be a constant state. But it is always worth asking what might be happening to cause particualr behaviours.
Have they behaved like this before?
Working with children many professionals know the situations that particular children find difficult. Yet sometimes, almost without realising it we keep putting childreninto difficult situations repeatedly. The child who also has problems on the playground for example. If that is the case then as adults we need to change the situation for the child or support them to gain the skills they need to cope in such situations.
What might have motivated their behaviour?
As adults we can sometimes attach i ntent to childrens behaviour that simply isn’t there. They may have times when they test boundaries, as all children do but often they behaviour is driven by more complex emotional ‘drivers’, like anxiety, stress, fear of failure or humiliation to mention just a few. Effectively children may not be choosing to behave they are responding to emotions they can’t handle. Additionally some children will be in a state of constant high alert and may not be able to ‘manage’ or regulate their emotions.
Do they feel safe in the environment and is their a person they can trust?
We all need to feel safe that is one reason why unfamiliar enviroments may cause stress. Children with attachment issues or who have experienced trauma need to have a place witihin the environment where they feel safe and a person they feel safe with- remember these children will have had experiences where they have not felt safe and they may not have been able to trust the adults caring for them. You can read a bit about it here
It is good practice to plan in advance and create a safe space for children and allow time for them to develop relationships with adults who can helpthem feel safe.
What can adults do to help restore calm?
When children are feeling overwhelmed they need adults to be calm and to have a plan. Their greatest need is to feel safe. So its helpful to allow space and time to allow them to calm, with a calm adult they trust. Establishing a range of strategies to use can help so can gradually supporting them to understand what happens when they feel these various emotions BUT the most important feature is developing meaningful relationships with adults they can trust. That is what will ultimately help them to self regulate as the brain essentially heals and they are able to develop the necessary brain ‘pathways’.
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