All children demonstrate challenging behaviors but for children with special needs, who have additional difficulties understanding and communicating, challenging behaviors can be extremely trying events for parents and caregivers. Here are five rules that can help dramatically decrease challenging behaviors at home:
1. Choose your battles.
Which behaviors are most important to change now? We all have lots of things to get done each day: work, cooking, cleaning, let alone time for rest and relaxation. No matter how much one may want to, it is impossible do all these things and direct children at the same time, all the time. Set short-term goals specifying which behaviors you will target at a time. Focus on changing those specific behaviors each time they come up.
2. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Using passive language (questions like “Can you carry that?”) is great to give a child an option to say no. This provides the opportunity for the child to express their feelings (ex. “No, I don’t want to.”) and their responses should be honored. On the other hand, if you don’t want them to have the option, when you need them to clean up for example, use strong language (“Clean up”versus “Will you clean up?”).
3. Follow through with your demands.
When you’ve given your child a command, such as to clean up their toys, provide your child the opportunity to be successful. If you have to repeat the demand more than one time and your child does not follow the instructions, then repeat the demand while physically prompting him/her to be successful by following through. This sounds simple but as we all know, this can be very difficult when certain challenging behaviors emerge. Just remember: the sooner that you stick to this rule, the sooner that your child will stick to your demands.
4. Promote language and social interaction between peers.
Answering questions your child asks in conversation is a great natural learning opportunity. These conversation skills are vital to intellectual growth. At times however, children ask questions or make comments that may be simple for other children to answer or comment about. This is a great opportunity to defer questions to other children (“Wow, that’s great! Did you tell your friends?’). Think how often you may hear, “Look at this.” Now imagine how many fewer interruptions you might have if your child was showing his sibling or peers. Not only is this a great way to promote social interaction, but it is also a great way for you to finish that book you’ve been working on without interruptions.
5. Teach your child to accept “No”.
Sharing is essential in life. Whether at work or at home, between adults or siblings, we all have to give up items at times. However, we also must accept when one says “No” while we reserve our right say “No” to others. When a child is playing with his/her peers or siblings, prompt the children to ask each other to share rather than to take an item. Highly praise and reinforce the children both when they share and when the child appropriately accepts “No”. Follow through with the child’s decision to say “No” and do not allow access to the item when the other child displays a challenging behavior related to accepting “No”. However, in the end it is the adult’s decision if the children need to share. For example if one child often denies another of an item, prompt a change in their language: Instead of saying “No”, prompt language like “When I’m done” or “In a little bit”, then follow through and prompt sharing a little afterwards. Finally, have fun! When the child displays the behavior you are working towards, raise your energy level, get excited, and have fun!