Monday 3 December 2018

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies, Part Two

This parenting gig can be pretty demanding at the best of times but throw in challenging behaviour from your little ones, and it can become a whole new level of demanding on everyone. Yes that's right, on everyone. Our children, ourselves and those around us.

From experience I know that at times parenting can feel like a battle of wits. Who is going to win out?? Who is going to crack first?

But there is one important piece of information that we as parents (and even our children's teachers and carers) tend to forget and that is that children rarely exhibit challenging behaviour on purpose. They exhibit these challenging behaviours to serve a purpose. And that purpose is usually to communicate their needs or wants to us. Behaviour in it's simplest form is a type of communication.

It is taken me a number of years of constantly reminding myself when O and L are having rough days, that they aren't doing the behaviour on purpose, even though it does feel like that at times. I've written a post previously on how to get to the root cause of challenging behaviour and wanted to write a follow up post on things that we can do as parents to assist our children with their behaviour.

Over the last three and a half years, I have attended numerous workshops and seminars specifically geared towards parents who have children on the spectrum.  One of the topics that is discussed at length in every workshop and seminar is Positive Behaviour Support Strategies. Every time that I have discussed Positive Behaviour Support Strategies with others, the question always comes back to me .... "but they will only work for children who are on the spectrum, those who have a diagnosis."

he thing is, challenging behaviour is not something that only children who are diagnosed with autism exhibit. I have met many, many children who are not on the spectrum who also exhibit challenging behaviour. The positive behaviour support strategies that I have learnt over the last few years can also be used with children who have not received a diagnosis and are unlikely to ever be diagnosed with anything, i.e. your everyday, typically developing child!  In fact, I have used all of these strategies with many children, with great success.

So before I get onto the strategies, what are positive behaviour support strategies?

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies are all about aiming to prevent the challenging behaviour from occurring in the first place by promoting positive behaviour from children in environments that are both positive and supportive. These two words, "positive" and "supportive" are instrumental in assisting our children. We need to teach our children what to do, rather than what not to do. As parents we need to equip our children with the skills that they need to become accountable and take ownership for their own behaviour. By taking away the perceived negative language (no, stop, don't and so on) and replacing them with teaching children and modelling to them what to do, it all becomes a much more positive experience for all. Children are not born with the inherent ability to know right from wrong so we need to be supportive of them as they learn new skills.

The following Positive Behaviour Support Strategies are strategies that primarily teach YOU how to remain calm when dealing with challenging behaviours but they will also begin to teach your child about developing self control in relation to their own behaviour.

Now of course as with all new strategies that parents put in place, the Positive Behaviour Support Strategies may not work 100 percent of the time. However if you practicing these strategies regularly, they will become much more effective. Keep in mind that this is part two of this series. I have discussed some of these strategies in a previous post.

Please also keep in mind that if your child is in a state of meltdown then it is highly unlikely that ANY of these strategies will work. The best advice that I can give you is to stay calm and just be there for your child.

So let's get started!

1. You are your child's most influential teacher. We begin teaching our children from the moment that they make it earth side. From the beginning, let's show them what we want them to do. If we are respectful to others, then hopefully our children will follow our lead. Be the positive role model that all children need.

2. I've touched on this next strategy many times before and have no doubt that I will touch on it again in the future. Behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done to serve a purpose. One of our role as a parent/care giver/teacher/educator is to work out what that purpose is. At times it can be incredibly difficult to figure out the purpose. At other times it can be quite easy. But once you have worked out what the purpose is, we can begin to put strategies in place to assist our children.

We need to ascertain why our children are behaving in the manner that they are. Are they hungry? Are they tired? Are they bored or over stimulated? Are they simply exhibiting the behaviour to gain our attention? Are they physically unable to verbally tell us what they need or want at that particular moment. It can be helpful to make diary notes about the challenging behaviour - record the time of day, what occurred in the lead up to the challenging behaviour. You may start to notice patterns or triggers in the behaviour.

3. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to your children's behaviour. Most of the time I can predict when O or L are going to lose it. I may not know why they are having a rough time, but I can generally predict it. By being proactive I can put strategies in place to assist both of my little superheroes when they're having a rough time. But in saying that, there are still times when their challenging behaviour completely blind sides me. When you notice the signs of your children becoming agitated, step in at that point, rather than waiting for the situation to blow up.

4. When talking with (notice the word with rather then at) your children about their challenging behaviour try to remain calm. Admittedly this is easier said than done BUT remaining calm usually gets a better response from our children. Responding to your child in a calm and respectful manner is most likely going to get a better response then screaming back at them. This way we are also modelling how we would like them to interact with us and with others.

If at any point you need to walk away to take a few deep breaths and regroup, do it. Give yourself a few moments of time out. This will only help your child in the long run.

We are working on mindfulness breathing exercises at the moment with O in the hope that when she feels herself becoming anxious, she will be able to self regulate and ground herself. One program that we are using is Cosmic Kids Yoga. We're still in the early stages but O has been using deep breathing exercises at school and she has recently begun to teach L all about Cosmic Kids Yoga too! I'm finding the exercises useful for myself for when O and L are exhibiting challenging behaviours as well!

5. How many times have you asked your child not to do something only to find them doing the exact same thing 2 minutes later. When we say to children, "L don't run inside," they hear, "L run inside." Their brains filter out the stop, don't, no and only hear the rest of the instruction. So rather than telling our children what not to do, talk with them about what they can do as this takes away the negative language and replaces it with positive language. Or even better, show them.

"Can you show me how you can run really fast outside?
"We sit on the chairs, can you show me how you sit on a chair?"

Getting your children to assist in setting limits, as opposed to rules, can also be incredibly useful as they are more likely to remember and follow the limits if they have had an active part in creating them. We should always guide them towards the limits that we would like to see in our house and don't be surprised if at some point your children pick you up on breaking one of the limits!!! In the past when I have done this with my little superheroes and with children in my care, I have added visuals next to the limit so that the children could see what the limit was.

6. Rather than saying "good girl" or "good boy," praise their behaviour so that your children know what they did well. "That was great sharing L." If they know what they did well, they are more likely to do the same thing next time. Make them feel good about themselves. A positive reinforcement could be as simple as "Thanks for putting your shoes on," or "Thanks for putting your dishes in the sink." 

If a child is constantly being told don't do this, don't do that, stop this and so on, they are not going to feel real good about themselves. This also teaches the child how to attract negative attention. Whereas if we praise our children, they will begin to understand how to get positive attention.

I've also been asked on numerous occasions "but why should I be rewarding my children for doing what they should be doing in the first place?" This all goes back to strategy number 5! Children learn from being shown what to do, rather then being told off for doing the wrong thing!

Children also need to understand that by exhibiting appropriate socially acceptable behaviour means that they will be rewarded in some way. Praise is a reward.

7. We use a lot of "first and next" or "first and then" language in our house along with simplified instructions. 

"First put your shoes on and then we can go outside." 
"First put your hat on and then you can go and play in the sun." 

Multiple step instructions can be confusing for anyone but especially for our children. Break down the steps. Let our children know what they need to do first. First and next language and simple instructions really do go hand in hand.

8. Rather then labelling the child with a behaviour, for example …. 

"L is being naughty/crying/yelling/throwing toys,
label why the behaviour is occurring. "L is yelling because he wants the toy truck." By labelling why the behaviour is occurring, we can attempt to find a solution. Do we need to teach the child how to share? Are they struggling to communicate their needs? Do we need to introduce more turn taking activities? By labelling the behaviour we can also attempt to get to the route cause of the child's behaviour. Remember, behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done to serve a purpose.

There is no such thing as a naughty child so please don't label the child with the behaviour. As a parent whose child has been labelled as "the naughty boy," it is truly heartbreaking. And if a child hears themselves being called the naughty child long enough, they will begin to mimic that. 

9. Green/Happy versus Red/Sad choices. 

Now this strategy is quite contentious depending on who you talk to. It is quite often misinterpreted as to how this strategy is used which is why it is contentious - just recently I have read a number of incorrect descriptions of this strategy.

You should NOT use this strategy to label a child's behaviour - "That is a red choice L." You should NOT use this strategy to make a child feel bad about their behaviour. - "Why do you always choose red choices?" And you should definitely NOT use this strategy to be demeaning towards a child.

This strategy IS used to begin to teach a child that there are consequences for them choosing to do particular behaviours. The Green/Red strategy puts the onus for the behaviour back onto the child. I have used this strategy in a positive way, successfully with children as young as 18 months. The idea is that the child is rewarded for choosing to make green choices and they can begin to understand that there are consequences for red choices. For example .... "If you make a green choice and  put your hat on, you can go and play outside but if you don't put a hat on, you'll need to stay on the verandah because we need to wear our hats when it is sunny." Saying it in this manner, still sounds positive.

The reward doesn't need to be a physical reward like a toy or sticker or other such item, it could just be being able to play outside. The Green/Red choices is about a child gaining an understanding that their behaviour is their choice - we're not telling them what they can and can't do. They choose to do the behaviour.

Whenever I have introduced the green/red choices to children, including my own, I have first talked with them about what they think green and red choices are. Again by including them in setting the limits has been useful as they have played an active role.

If you would like more details on the Green/Red Choices, I talk about it more in this post.

10. This next one is difficult to get into the habit of doing - pick your battles. At times we just want our children to stop doing whatever they are doing, but why? If the behaviour is just annoying to us, do they really need to stop doing it? 

There's a few questions you could ask yourself … Is the behaviour unsafe? Is the behaviour hurting anyone else? Is the child damaging or likely to damage any property other than their own toys? 

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, then we should be redirecting the child to another activity. If the answer is no and the behaviour is simply annoying, then we probably don't need to stop the child. Is stopping annoying behaviour really worth the battle? 

It isn't always possible to overlook challenging behaviour particularly if there is a potential safety issue either to themselves or to others around the child, but to the greatest extent possible, we need to attempt to redirect the child to another activity. If you do need to redirect your child to another activity, always ensure that you talk with your child why they shouldn't be doing the undesired behaviour …. "That wasn't very safe so I need you to go and have some quiet time reading a book." Again it isn't just us telling children what they can or can't do, we are giving them a reason as to why they shouldn't be doing that behaviour.

With unwanted challenging behaviours, it is vital that you assist your child to find an acceptable behaviour or activity to replace the challenging behaviour. If you don't, then it is highly likely that your child will continue with the challenging behaviour or they find an equally challenging behaviour themselves!!

11. One on one time! All children love one on one time with their parents. At times challenging behaviour in which your child is trying to simply get your attention could be solved be spending a little one on one time with them. This could be as simple as going for a walk with your child around the block where you live. You could read a book together. You could just lay in bed and have cuddles. O will often tell us "I just want to sit and cuddle you and tell you what happened today!" after she has had a rough moment. Listen to and acknowledge your child's feelings if they open up to you. One on one time is the perfect opportunity to assist your child to come up with solutions on their own (with your assistance of course.) They will end up feeling empowered that they are capable of managing their own issues to rise up.

12. Lastly if a behaviour strategy is not working, it is NOT your child's fault. We need to look at the behaviour from another angle. The best example that I have of this is as follows …. I had a child many, many years ago in my care that would strip butt naked in front of his peers. At first we thought that he needed to go to the toilet, so we'd assist him to the bathrooms but as he was fully toilet trained, the behaviour just did not make any sense. This went on for weeks and the challenging behaviour of striping naked at random points throughout the day in front of his peers and other people coming into the service continued. It took another staff member to ask the question "is he just striping naked to get everyone's attention?" All it took was a fresh set of eyes and voila, the challenging behaviour made a lot more sense. Our chosen strategy of redirecting him to the bathroom was giving him exactly what he wanted - attention - we had chosen the wrong strategy. When we began to ignore his behaviour, to an extent, and began to give him one on one attention in other settings, the challenging behaviour stopped within days! This is where keeping diary records of when and where the challenging behaviour occurs is useful.

I hope that you have found this post useful and I'd love to hear about any other Positive Behaviour Support Strategies that you use.

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I would love to hear your thoughts on my blog. I do read all the comments that are posted. Thanks so much for stopping by. Jen xx