As Occupational Therapists we often receive referrals for children who have behaviour or emotional regulation challenges. These children are often described as unpredictable, explosive, naughty, avoidant or destructive. In the past a lot of attention has been given to reducing these behaviours, rather than considering where they stem from.
Thankfully, over recent years the understanding of behaviour has evolved, allowing us to see it as a form of communication rather than a display of the child’s personality. Behaviour that is undesirable, harmful or disruptive is often an escalation resulting from subtle attempts by the child to communicate their challenges being missed. This forces the child to make their communication clearer. For example, throwing a toy away when not knowing how to use it or refusing a task at school, running away and hiding.
Child psychologist and author Ross W. Greene states, “Kids do well when they can”.
This means that when our children “don’t do”, it is a signal for us to help them by scaffolding the task (adjusting the task to make it easier) or making changes to the environment. By using this lens through which to view children’s behaviour, we can consider how to best support the child to build the necessary skills.
An example would be when looking at a child, rather than focusing on a behaviour that we need to reduce or prevent, we consider what the child is doing and ask:
If your child is considered ‘naughty’, ‘explosive’ or has other frequent behaviour challenges, look at their behaviour as a form of communication and consider what it is trying to tell you.
There might be ways to ease the challenge by demonstrating the task or doing it together to allow the child to take more ownership of the task as their confidence grows.
Reducing the perception of pressure or demand allows the child more ‘thinking space’ to process what needs to be done and to organise the body to complete the necessary actions.
Providing well scaffolded opportunities for success will develop a sense of curiosity and drive to try more and to persist over challenges.
A great resource for more information is Dr Ross Greene’s book – The Explosive Child, which is often recommended by our therapists.
Author: Caitlin Venn – Occupational Therapist