“Children with Challenging Behavior” Is Back

Photo by Ryan Tauss

Photo by Ryan Tauss

We’re back! We’ve been away far too long, working on other projects. Barbara has been traveling, giving keynotes and workshops in New York City, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Dallas, Pennsylvania, New Brunswick, and—lucky Barbara—in Auckland, New Zealand. Where is she going next? Check out her upcoming gigs here.

Barbara also presented a webinar called “Out of Control Children: A Team Approach for Early Educators and Families” for Early Childhood Investigations. If you weren’t one of the more than 4000 people who signed up, you can access the webinar here.

Miss Night’s marvelous musings

Now that we’re blogging again, we’ll share some of the exciting new research and strategies we discovered while we were writing.

First of all, we want to alert you to two powerful blog posts published this winter. You may have seen at least one of them because it went viral, so far receiving more than 2 million views, 1000 comments, 100 requests to share it in school and agency newsletters, and 6 translations. The author is Amy Murray, better known as Miss Night, who in real life is the director of early childhood education at the Calgary French & International School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Her post, “Dear Parent: About THAT kid…,” appeared on November 10, 2014. It begins:

“Dear Parent:

“I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting shoving pinching scratching maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block centre because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbour’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.”

To read the rest, click here:

Inspired by Miss Night

The second powerful post comes from a parent—one who identified herself as “that” parent. Using her own experience in British Columbia as a springboard, Karen Copeland created a blog and founded a group called Champions for Community Mental Wellness, whose mission is to educate others about the challenges faced by the families of children with mental health problems.

On November 15, 2014, Copeland posted her reaction to Miss Night’s blog, calling it “I Am ‘that’ parent.” It begins:

Dear professionals: You know me, I am the one who asks questions. The one who seems like she is always asking for information. The one who makes suggestions on the IEP, or seems to go on and on and on about the concerns she has about her son. The one who will turn a 15 minute scheduled meeting into 45 minutes. The one who does not hesitate to let you know when things are not going well for her child. The one who can get emotional and (unintentionally) make everyone feel yucky. The one who requests documentation and wants to look at her child’s file. The one who says she wants goals to be more specific. The one who just doesn’t seem to go away and leave you alone to do your job. The one who keeps her own file.”

To see more, click here.

What do you think of these posts? Do they resonate with you? What have you learned from them? Have parents ever asked you questions like these? How do you reply? What would you like to say?


Anxiety: A Signal of Challenging Behavior

Challenging and aggressive behavior often seems to come out of nowhere, but the truth is that if you look carefully you can see it on the horizon–in the guise of anxiety.

Anxiety in a child is a kind of early warning system that something is amiss, whether it’s the result of being left out of a group, stress at home, exposure to violence, even autistic spectrum disorder.

It’s hard to notice in a busy classroom because it’s internal; it doesn’t usually show much, and it doesn’t affect anyone but the child himself. But anxiety interferes with a child’s ability to learn and interact with his peers, and it can easily escalate to agitation and aggression if it isn’t addressed. We will certainly notice it then.

Become Sherlock Holmes

To see anxiety, you have to become a detective. To begin with, you must build a close relationship with every child and get to know all the children well–their temperaments, developmental levels, play skills, families, and cultures; what frustrates and frightens them; what makes them happy, mad, or sad.

You also have to learn to read the subtle physiological and behavioral clues the children display as they try to cope with their anxiety. For example:

  • Physiology. Tears, frequent urination, clenched teeth, blushing, pallor, rigidity, rapid breathing, sweating, fidgeting, vomiting, squeaky voice
  • Behavior. Downcast eyes, withdrawing, hair twirling, thumb-sucking, sucking hair or clothes, biting fingernails, hoarding, clinging, whining, being noisy or quiet, screaming, masturbating, smirking, giggling, crying

Figuring out what the child is thinking and feeling will help, too.

  • Thoughts. No one loves me; no one wants me; I’m no good; I don’t like it here; I don’t have any friends; no one will come to get me; I can’t do it; I’m bad; I want my mommy
  • Feelings. Distressed, troubled, afraid, nervous, excited, expectant, sad, irritable, grouchy, mad, insecure, frustrated, worried, confused, panicky

Reach Out

When a child’s characteristic clues appear, it’s time to connect–to smile, to sit nearby, to offer your help, to ask open-ended questions.

Pay special attention to your body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, which all convey far more than your words. You’ll want to do whatever works for a particular child.

This tiny intervention delivered at just the right moment will save you tons of time and trouble later, and protect the child from learning that challenging behavior is the best way to solve problems.

PS. Many of these ideas come from the WEVAS program created by Neil Butchard and Robert Spencler. For more information go to www.wevas.net


Six Tips for Preventing Challenging Behavior

Maybe it’s one of your nightmares about the beginning of the school year: There’s a child with challenging behavior in your class, and you don’t know what to do.

Like many teachers, you probably had very little training in this subject. But believe it or not, you can help this child to behave appropriately and at the same time create a classroom that’s pleasant, relaxed, and conducive to learning.

Prevention is the best intervention. Here are some tips on how to do it.

1. Know the children well. If a child with challenging behavior can’t function, she may distract or frighten the other children, destroy their work, even hurt them. She will monopolize your time, deplete your resources, and keep you from teaching. But when the environment meets her physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs, she feels capable of success and needs challenging behavior less.

By anticipating when she’ll have trouble, preventing the situation from occurring, and reminding her of what to do instead of waiting for her to make a mistake, you can construct a new pattern: She will feel good about herself and yearn to have that feeling again.

You may have to change your teaching style to meet her needs, but you will have more to give to all the children.

2. Make your classroom a community. The social context of the classroom has an enormous impact on the way children behave. Although you can’t see or touch it, the social context—which grows out of our words, actions, and body language—is everywhere, telling us what attitudes and behaviors are expected, accepted, and valued.

While young children are learning self-control, they rely on the external environment to help them. Teachers can support them by developing caring, responsive relationships and surrounding them with a positive, prosocial, predictable social context.

When children participate in structured cooperative activities or work together toward a common goal, they have a better chance to feel included. Class meetings; music, dance, and drama activities; cooking, murals, noncompetitive games, large construction projects; and reading aloud to the whole group every day foster unity, shared interests, prosocial behavior, and cooperative social interaction.

3. Watch your (body) language.  Remember that you’re always a role model. When you smile and show your affection and enthusiasm, the children notice, and you set a positive tone for the whole class.

Eliminate no, don’t, and stop from your vocabulary. “Stop running!” opens the door for trouble: Should they hop, skip, jump? Instead use positive, direct language that tells them what to do. “Please walk in the hallway,” stated clearly, calmly, and respectfully, informs them of the expected behavior.

Avoid why, too. Andrew may not know why he spit, and if you ask, he’s likely to fabricate a reason. He may even believe that an explanation will make the behavior acceptable. But unacceptable behavior is always unacceptable, and why puts some children on the defensive, making it harder for them to regain control.

Saying “please” and “thank you,” expressing your feelings, being sensitive to others’ feelings, and offering and accepting help all show that you respect and value the children—and demonstrate how they can respect and value each other.

4. Help the children create rules, which teach expectations and set boundaries for behavior. Three to 5 are enough—it’s easier to remember them when there aren’t too many. They should be clear, explicit, stated in the positive, general enough to cover almost any situation, and important enough so that there will be no exceptions.

Begin with the primary need of everyone in the room—to be safe. Children and teachers have proposed:

  • Respect yourself / Take care of yourself / Be safe
  • Respect others / Take care of others / Be kind
  • Respect the environment / Take care of the environment / Be gentle

The children will understand, respect, and follow the rules more readily if they create them themselves, with your support and guidance. Explain that rules enable people to treat one another fairly, kindly, and respectfully. This is a difficult concept, so work on it over time, including lots of examples and discussion so that the children come to a common understanding of what the rules mean. For instance, “respect others” may mean “listen when other people are talking” and “use an inside voice in the hallway.”

Post the rules with illustrations by the children and give each child a copy to take home. Throughout the year, use natural opportunities and activities to reinforce them. Children tend to forget, and practice helps them to remember.

5. Provide choice. When children can make their own decisions, they don’t need inappropriate ways to seek power and independence. Give them opportunities to succeed and to feel comfortable trying, and supervise closely so that you can reduce or add choices or teach new skills as circumstances require.

Even when you have a great circle or meeting time with lots of variety—sitting, standing, jumping, singing—give the children the choice to leave and return so that they don’t learn to rely on inappropriate behavior to meet their needs. Be sure to create a procedure for leaving and returning.

6. Teach social and emotional skills proactively and on a regular basis. They help children to make friends, regulate their emotions, gain self-esteem, resolve conflicts, and perform better at school.

Adults model, teach, and reinforce social and emotional skills, but because children imitate those most like themselves, they increasingly learn these skills through interaction with their peers.

Children with challenging behavior have great difficulty in the social and emotional realm. Often rejected by their classmates, they have few chances to learn and practice these skills, so it’s a good idea to teach social and emotional skills to the whole group. All of the children benefit; no one is singled out or stigmatized; and everyone learns the same concepts and vocabulary, making the skills easier to model and use.

Reinforce them in real-life interactions by staying closely attuned and coaching, prompting, and cueing to ensure children get the desired results.


Welcome to Children with Challenging Behavior

As the authors of Challenging Behavior in Young Childrenwe’re always looking for new information on this subject that’s so near and dear to our hearts.

From her base in Nova Scotia, Barbara travels the world giving workshops and presentations, while Judy stays home in Montreal reading books and online materials—and both of us collect interesting and useful research, ideas, and opinions that we believe will interest you, too.

So we want to share some of our discoveries.

Most of the information we find is straightforward and reliable, some of it is controversial, and some is downright wrong. We’ll tell you what we think—but we also want to know what you think, what you disagree with, what you want to understand better, what you’d like to know more about. That is, we rely on you to help us.

If we don’t know the answers to your questions, we’ll try to find out, because something that makes you wonder probably makes others wonder as well, and the more that we know about children and their challenging behavior, the more likely we are to make a difference in their lives.

We’ll focus mainly on young children’s behavior, but we’ll also write about aggression and violence in older children and adults—such as the shooting in Aurora, CO—because what happens in early childhood has such a huge influence on what happens later.

Look for us in this spot… or sign up at the right to receive an email notice each time we post.