Behavior is a tricky, touchy subject. Every family parents differently and has different experiences, expectations, and emotions regarding how best to help children learn to behave within the norms of their family and culture. Usually, parents are the primary disciplinarians, the ones setting the standards for their children and dealing with the tantrums, disagreements, and power struggles that are a normal part of growing up. But when a child’s behavior needs spill over into a therapy session, how can professionals and parents partner for success?
When a child’s behavior is getting in the way of her success, what’s an AVT to do? I like to start by asking the parent some questions:
Is this okay with you? Is this behavior allowed or acceptable in your home? Sometimes, the parents are going to say, “Yes,” this behavior is okay with them, and then I just have to deal with it. I may not love that the child is standing on his chair, but if it’s okay with the parents, it’s not endangering the child, and it’s not preventing the child from learning, then it’s my time to butt out. But if the behavior is something that is unsafe for the child or others, or something that is getting in the way of the child’s learning, then I need to express that to the parent. In those cases, I’ll say something like, “I hear that you don’t mind him doing this at home, which is fine, but in here, it’s dangerous for him to do that/ keeping her from hearing what she needs to do/ making it hard for me to concentrate/etc.” and then move on to other questions (see below). But a “yes” answer is rare. Most of the time, parents will say, “No,” and they’re feeling just as exasperated as I am, if not more. After all, they deal with this all day long!
How do you usually handle this at home? If the family already has a plan or system for how to handle behavior, then why would I mess up what they’ve put in place? It may not be the way I would choose to deal with the behavior, but short of abuse (which, as a mandated reporter, I take incredibly seriously), it’s not my role to change the culture of the family.
Is that working? Lots of times, the family doesn’t have a plan in place to handle the behavior, or at least not a plan that’s been successful for them thus far. But instead of just telling the family, “What you’re doing is failing!” I want to hear their experiences and self-reflection. What are you trying at home? What is your child’s response? Do you feel like it’s helping you toward your goal of good behavior? What’s working and what doesn’t?
Would you like to tackle it together? Even if the family admits that they don’t like what the child is doing, they don’t have a plan to deal with it, and/or what they’re doing is not working, I still need to ask this last crucial question. I need their permission and buy-in for us to tackle this challenge together. And together really means together. I’m not asking their permission so I can barge in and institute a behavior plan that I think is best, I’m asking their permission to become collaborative partners as we try out some new ways of approaching their child’s behaviors to facilitate learning and success. I have experience working with many different children and families over the years and knowledge of child behavior and development, but only the family has expert knowledge of their child and their family system, so I need them to think with me on this if we’re going to succeed.
I’ve written before about some basic principles of behavior for children with hearing loss (see HERE), but here are two more quick ways to think about behavior. All you have to do is remember your ABCs.
What is happening just before the child’s behavior outburst (the antecedent)? What behavior does the child show in response? What is the consequence of this behavior (positive or negative, what doe the child “gain” from doing this)? Often, by viewing behavior from this zoom-out view (What happened before? Why is he yelling now? What purpose does that yelling serve? vs. just “He’s yelling, let’s tell him to stop that”) can help us get to the root of our problem.
All behaviors a child exhibits, positive or negative, are trying to tell us something. A hug pretty clearly says, “I love you,” but what do screaming and kicking say? Is the child acting up because he’s tired? Is his fiddling around during an activity telling us this is too hard for him? Can I view negative reactions in the session as telling me something really important, rather than just “being bad”?