At the All Ohio Counselors Conference, Sherry Shamblin, PCC-S, Chief of Behavioral Health Operations from Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services Inc. presented ‘Practical Strategies for Challenging Behaviors in Young Children’. Now known as Hopewell Health Centers, this safety net covers 8 counties and 16 sites. Without early intervention, these challenging behaviors in early childhood can become embedded behavior that affect a child going forward, and teachers are less likely to interact with the child exhibiting challenging behaviors when they sometimes need intervention more. Caregivers need to understand which buttons trigger their behavior and utilize self-talk, ‘The way I win is to stay calm.’
The AOCC program guide says, ‘Nationally, as many as 7-20% of preschool children exhibit social-emotional problems that meet criteria for a mental health disorder (ODMH, reported in Sites, Collopy, Velila, Cayard & Graft 2008). At least 30% are at risk of being expelled from their preschool/childcare settings because of their challenging behaviors (Ravner & Knitzer, 2002).” Shamblin asked rhetorically, “Why do they do it?” She suggested: “1. To avoid a situation or person, 2. To obtain an object or person, and, 3. Because a change in stimulation is needed.“
It’s important to keep in mind that the adult attention level is only about 20 minutes, and much lower for a child’s attention span. One has to adapt and plan accordingly. Asserting one’s independence is a typical developmental challenge. Often the cognitively challenged child becomes oppositional. If they can’t do a task yet developmentally, that may be the reason for the opposition. There could also be a background contributing factor such as abuse or other issue. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work; treatment has to be highly individualized and one has to spend adequate time on the ‘before’, Shamblin asserted. What preceeded the objectionable behavior. That may provide a clue.
With young children it’s important to pay attention to transitions in their lives. Young kids need transition support. Shamblin gave an example. If children run wild and throw fits, cycle an activity like ‘getting your coat’ and do it in smaller groups. Her example: ask all the kids wearing blue to ‘get your coat’- to minimize wholesale environmental disruption-everyone running amok at once. Understand the reason behind the behaviors and eliminate extraneous factors. Interventions work in the case where there is a: 1. Skill deficit (you can teach it) or, 2. A performance deficit. A child should be able to sit still for a certain time, an age-appropriate time frame, but if they’re not self-regulating look at the reasons. Note that everyone goes down a developmental level when stressed or angry. When they need to change the stimulation level, find time to engage them differently.
For adolescents with mental and behavioral health issues, some may return to an earlier developmental state because of trauma or experiences that occured in childhood. Until they can process that and successfully complete all the tasks associated with that stage, they’re more challenged in behaving at an age appropriate level. Faced with an impending cross country move, David, age 6 began rocking himself to sleep, and even sucking his thumb- reverting to a pre-school behavior pattern. His mom sought help from a pediatrician when he wet the bed. Parents had not realized the stress the move was causing and began focusing special attention on alleviating David’s anxiety.
When it was time to get out of the swimming pool after an hour, Gilbert, age 4 threw a fit. His mom grabbed him by the hand and marched him into the changing room, where he went into a full blown screaming tantrum, ‘No! No! No! I don’t want to go! Want to stay in the water!’ as he kicked his legs and made dressing him all but impossible. His older siblings ignored him, embarrassed. This was similar to the fit he threw at Wal-Mart in the toy department, ‘Want a toy! Waaahhh!’ Much behavioral crossover occurs in a developmental arena with young children, and often it’s about understanding expectations. She suggests for that reason, a resource, ‘The Out of Sync Child’. In her handout she identified ways to look at the challenging behavior: 1. Ask why? 2. Examine contributing factors, and 3. Set a goal for specific, tailored interventions. That applies with older kids too. Shamblin maintains a sense of humor, composure, and you get the feeling she’s ‘been there, done that,’ which is re-assuring, in itself.
Here are resource links:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/out-of-sync-child-carol-stock-kranowitz/1100555272 The Barnes and Noble review says, “The Out-of-Sync Child broke new ground by identifying Sensory Processing Disorder, a common but frequently misdiagnosed problem in which the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses. This newly revised edition features additional information from recent research on vision and hearing deficits, motor skill problems, nutrition and picky eaters, ADHA, autism, and other related disorders.”
[photo credit: by Godfer/Dreamstime 25419832 Child playing 3d video games].