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Unraveling challenging behavior: some first steps

Those challenging behaviors that are knotty and difficult to positively change can be very vexing as a parent, especially when they escalate for no apparent reason. Here are some suggestions about what to do to begin to unravel some of these behavioral knots.

1. Make sure that you and your parenting partner take at least a few minutes alone together to ground yourselves in perspective. Remember the big picture, restate your strengths as parents, restate your child's strengths as a kid, appreciate all that you are together. This is a moment in time in a lifetime of parenting and relationship. Your child will turn out fine.

2. Check for concretes that might be contributing to a rise in challenging behavior: change in schedule, someone ill, disappointing or stressful event(s), loss of sleep, change in eating, etc. This might be either for your child or for you as parents. If you can identify something, see if you can make a positive impact in that area. Even just a small step can sometimes turn the tide.

3. Talk with your child about what you are noticing about the change in their behavior. Just note it for them. “We notice that you have had more arguments with your siblings . . . that you have had more meltdowns . . . that it has seemed harder for you to follow directions . . . that you have been less playful” (modified for whatever the case may be). Be as concrete as you can and reflect those behavioral observations to your child in a caring but matter of fact way. See what they have to say about your observations . . . your child may be able to offer some insight into what is happening. Don’t push though. Just noticing from an inquisitive and calm place is the starting point.

4. Make sure to get restorative things into the schedule. That might mean extra attention on soothing bedtime routines or one on one focused play time with your child. Alternatively, they may have a lot of extra energy in their system that needs to get out with some increased physical activity. Make sure, though, that there is enough rest and “downtime” in your child's routine right now. A kid will often resist hearing that they are tired when, in fact, that is exactly what is happening.

Finally, start some kind of observation log. It can be as simple as recording into a audio diary at the end of the day or snapping pictures of things that “capture” what is bothering you. I will be able to assist you much more if we can discuss the specifics of what happens when things fall apart. There is almost always some kind of observable build up but we have to train ourselves to notice the sequence.

(photo credit: Caleb Woods, accessed through Unsplash)