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New Perspectives in Parenting A Child with Behavioural Difficulties

Parenting a child with behavioural difficulties is challenging, no doubt, and it just doesn't seem like any of the advice you get from your parents, your friends, your child's Teachers, or other professionals is helping. Instead of improving, the behaviour just keeps getting more and more out of control. Ross Greene, Ph.D., is the author of the book, The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. His perspective for managing child behavioural difficulties has shifted my own practice in supporting children, families, and school-based staff within my professional role, and in addressing behavioural difficulties with my own children. Raising a child with behavioural difficulties can feel like a thankless job, like you are constantly just treading water and putting out fires. And the judgment that comes along with having a child who struggles with behavioural challenges can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty, and ashamed - like you have failed as a parent - even when you know you are doing everything in your power to help your child. In debunking current views of children with behavioural difficulties, Dr. Greene writes:
"...the terms that have commonly been used to characterize behaviorally challenging kids - terms such as willful, manipulative, attention-seeking, limit-testing, contrary, intransigent, unmotivated - are inaccurate and counterproductive. You'll also read that a lot of the things we've been saying about the parents of these kids - that they're passive, permissive, inconsistent, non-contingent, inept disciplinarians - aren't very accurate or productive either."
Parents - it is not your child's fault, and it's not your fault either! The more people who can learn and understand what we now know to be true about parenting a child with behavioural difficulties, the more we can begin to build a village of people who truly understand what those children need to succeed in life, and who support instead of judge children with behavioural difficulties and their parents. If you are parenting a child with behavioural difficulties, particularly if you are also parenting one or more others without those same challenges, you already know that what works well for a typical child - things like sticker charts, and taking things away, and punishments, and time-outs, and negotiating - does not have the same impact for a child who struggles to manage their behaviour, and in fact, they could be making things worse. Dealing effectively with children who struggle with behavioural difficulties requires us to shift into a new way of understanding children. Instead of viewing behaviour as simply a bad choice, or a way to get attention or get what the child wants, we need to begin to understand that, as Dr. Greene states, "kids do well if they can." Think about the last time you, as an adult, said something or did something out of anger or frustration. Did you choose to react that way consciously? Did you do it for attention or just to get what you want? We all want attention, and we all want to get what we want, but we also know that reacting out of frustration or anger doesn't get us the kind of attention we are seeking, or whatever it is that we truly want - or at least not in an effective way. You reacted in that situation from a place of feeling overwhelmed or frustrated or stressed or you simply didn't know what to do! But let's face it - if you were able to "choose" a different behaviour, or if you were able to get attention or get what you wanted in a way that was more helpful or in line with your morals and values in that particular situation, wouldn't you have "chosen" to do that instead? Of course you would! Just as children would prefer to do the thing that will get them what they want without yelling, or screaming, or crying, or shutting down. Instead of viewing your child's behavioural difficulties as a choice, it's a lot more helpful to understand that your child's behavioural difficulty is your clue that they are lacking very important skills needed for managing their emotions or behaviours in that situation. This is what Dr. Greene refers to as lagging skills. Children with behavioural difficulties tend to lack skills in
  • flexibility
  • adaptability
  • frustration tolerance, and
  • problem-solving
When the demands of a situation outweigh a child's skills or abilities to deal with those demands, behaviours arise. Taking an inventory of the times or situations when your child becomes explosive, has a meltdown, or just shuts down, will allow you to pinpoint what it is that your child is struggling with. You can find a link further reading and an excellent tool for getting a better understanding of your child's triggers here. Now that you know how to get a greater understanding of why your child is struggling with behavioural difficulties, and when these challenges are most likely to arise, you can start to view your child's challenging behaviours as lagging skills, which indicates that there is a problem that needs to be solved. When you view your child's behaviour from this perspective, you will be much more likely to get a greater understanding of what is truly at the root of your child's difficult behaviour, so that instead of imposing superficial strategies to get rid of the behaviour in the short-term, you will actually be getting to the root of the problem and will be able to begin to create lasting solutions for managing your child's difficult behaviour over the long-term. If you found this post helpful, please leave a comment in the space below. If you would like more information, click on the link provided above, visit Dr. Greene's website, and stay tuned for future posts on this topic.