The When of Changing Behavior

The tantrum at the store, the blowup at the friends house or the refusal to leave somewhere fun are all issues of the prek world. Some children may be able to go with the flow with minimal outbursts while others may do all of the above every time and more. Some children may be strong willed with their own ideas and others may be experimenting with independence which is typical behavior yet can be exhausting. All caregivers need to remember, it is not the behavior of the child that you can control but you can control your response to whatever children throw at you. A consistent response is the difference between making a scene and creating more problems in the future to reducing the behavior and maintaining control and working through the behavior. And if you give in to avoid a scene, you will continue to have more and more difficulty as the monster behavior will continue to grow.

The first thing to do is to remove the child from the situation to avoid the negative impact to themselves by having an audience to the behavior and it ultimately impacting their other relationships. Yet, it is important to note, this is not the time to be instilling a consequence or threatening what things will happen which will only cause the outburst to increase. This is similar to antagonizing an already bad situation and may cause them to take away more privileges that they may later regret or worse back out on. For example, “because you aren’t listening still, you are going to bed early and no tv and…” This is a time for damage control only.

The when of changing behavior comes long after the meltdown occurs in calm discussions of expectations and role play practice. With younger children it needs to happen more immediately after they are calm to teach the skill expected before they forget the incident altogether. For older children, it can be after they are calm, during a bedtime story or other calm moment when you have their full attention. There are multiple other ways to teach children what you expect to see including stories about it on youtube and role playing. After all, it takes experience and practice to learn a new skill.

It can and should also happen before the next event where the difficulties happen. This is the one that parents, adults and even teachers forget. Before the next visit to the store, playdate or fun event, caregivers should talk and practice about the period of difficulty. For example, “we are going to Mike’s house for a playdate and we will play for 2 hours when we are done we need to clean up and leave for home.” For role play, you can pretend you are at Mike’s house and clean up or even switch roles where you have to be the child and they are the adult.

Describe what good things will happen and the not so good so children are aware of both the perks and the consequences of their behavior. “When you do this without screaming and crying, we will get to come back next week. If you do not, we may have to miss the next playdate.” There is a quote that states, if a child does not know how to read, do math and other skills we teach, practice and reteach, but why do we think we need to punish when a child has a behavior? Chose the right time to change a behavior for the better not make it worse.

By Tiffany Madsen