BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS IN CHILDREN
In my capacity as an outpatient child psychologist, I run
into tons of crummy kid’s behaviors. (Usually but not always)
its Mom who drags their children into my office because of
bad grades, or for family fights, particularly among siblings.
Sometimes I see kids just before they enter Juvenile Hall,
or worse. In older kids, there are often drugs, alcohol
and/or sex involved. On a more benign note, a lot of kids visit
me because they cannot sit still, focus or organize. This
is usually accompanied by impulsivity. There is often a
question of whether there is ADHD or learning disability.
I have a well-honed process to assess ADHD and/or learning
problems. This is not the focus of this article (I’m writing
an ebook soon on ADHD…).
The behaviors that parents have to deal with are the
subject here, regardless of cause. By the time parents land
on my couch, they have visited with teachers, sent their kids
to a relative’s house for a time, looked at various learning
centers, thought about medication or even biofeedback programs.
Their children are acting out in increasingly egregious ways.
They need professional help.
I find that children’s behaviors, negative or not, usually
have some purpose. And, it is not always negative, as in
venting anger at a sister because she stole a toy. In this
case, the child might want more attention or feel inferior and
need comforting. Kids are almost more anxious than parents
realize. There are tons of events that make kids anxious.
If we think of anxiety as a condition that arises when we feel
out of control, then it is easier to understand that children
are little and much of their world is beyond their ability to
manage. If they do not feel secure that parents will protect
them, or just even help with problems, anxiety ensues.
Children usually do not have a vocabulary of their feelings.
So, they are not going to tell you they are anxious. Rather,
kids act out their feelings, doing physical things to vent.
Good feelings are obvious because they more often motivate kids
to do things that usually do not get them into too much trouble.
Too often, bad feelings produce the opposite. We parents notice
the rotten behaviors because they are disruptive to our sense of
order. They undermine our controls, which is probably one of
the things kids intend. Kids want our attention, cannot
verbalize their feelings, and feel crummy. Presto! This is
the recipe for behavior problems in children.
So, the first principle I think about with problem-behavior
children is to figure out what they want. What is the purpose
of this behavior? The second principle is to find some things
that are good about the child. EVERY child has tons of good
qualities. We parents have to find them, because chances are
the child has not had enough recognition in these areas.
Parents know how wonderful their children are, but in my
experience, do not nearly enough tell or show their kids of their
appreciation. In my experience, this should be done on a
Four-to-One ratio, which is the next principle. The 4:1 Rule,
for short, states that for every negative statement or
communication parents make to or about their children, there
should be four positive statements or communications to offset it.
And speaking of the one “negative” statement or communication;
it should be as neutral as possible. Parents usually feel this
way about their children, but rarely speak this way
(in the 4:1 ratio). Kids will seek out the “4” and avoid the “1,”
usually in direct proportion to how much their needs are not met,
or to how much stress is in their lives. Right about then, we
parents see “symptoms.”
I have written a comprehensive ebook on the above plus
included lots and lots of work-right-away techniques that stop
problem children behaviors. Not only is there the detailed
explanation of the 4:1 rule, but also of its sister technique,
the Three Contingencies of Reinforcement. Parents usually also
fail to “get” that one on their own. The combination of the 4:1
Rule and Three Contingencies thinking changes children’s behavior
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