Behaviour Grows where Attention Goes

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Child Development

As parents, we often find ourselves wearing many hats in a day. As the saying goes, “Parenting is probably the most challenging task as you are thrown into the deep end with no instruction manual”. From managing the household, our careers and ensuring the child is clothed and fed, we are also left to deal with developmental phases involving tantrums, defiance and an array of behaviours. Using a trial and error method of dealing with these behaviours can not only make things confusing for children, but also jeopardizes our relationships with them.

In this blog post, I will be discussing the big A – Attention, and its role in behaviour management.

Attention is a big underlying cause for almost all behaviours, positive or negative. As humans, we all thrive for attention and it often does not matter how we get it. When a child is misbehaving (remember, this is different to an emotional outburst if they are feeling hurt, sad, unsafe or angry) and testing the boundaries, removing attention to the negative behaviours and focusing instead on the positive ones can be extremely helpful.

Some ways in which this can be done is by ignoring the negative behaviours completely by:

  • Physically turning your body away from the child to send a strong message to the child that you are not going to get into a power struggle with them.
  • Redirecting your attention to another person i.e. praising another child who is complying to the rules
  • Redirecting your attention to a completely different topic instead of focusing on the reason of the argument / misbehaviour.
  • Refraining from engaging in negotiation of the rules and feeding into the negative behaviour (no arguing, shouting etc.).

Why?

Because behaviour grows where attention goes!

The bigger your reaction is to the tantrum, the longer it will last. Often when a boundary is placed and the child throws a tantrum because they are not allowed to have things their way, the crying shows that they have accepted the boundary and are upset by it. By giving in or reacting to their tantrum, we are sending out mixed signals and teaching our children that if they tried hard enough, the rules can be bent. Cutting out the ‘audience’ from the scene of tantrums can often reduce the length of the tantrum.

Focus less on the tantrum and more on positive behaviours.

Why?

Because once again, remember that behaviour grows where attention goes! By channeling your attention to a child’s strength and/or positive behaviours, you are encouraging the growth of positive behaviours. Your child will be more motivated to engage in behaviours that will gain your attention.

For tricky parenting issues such as toilet training or refusal to eat, try letting go of the issue and focusing on other aspects of the child that is going well. Channel your energy to look for positive things happening throughout the day. The intense focus on the ‘problem topic’ will only enhance the problem. By focusing on the many other strengths your child presents with, you are taking the stress of toileting/eating away from the child. By praising their other strengths,you are building up their confidence to be able to do well in those ‘problematic areas’ when the time is right for them. Avoid a power struggle as this often leads to a lose-lose situation and breaks down your relationship with your child. If the only time the child is getting any attention from you is during a meltdown or misbehaviour, then they will find every opportunity to have a meltdown or to misbehave.

If your child is young and unable to keep themself safe during a meltdown, stay close to them and comment on what you see happening in a neutral tone rather than react emotionally to the situation. For example you may say, “I can see that you are feeling really upset. It makes you want to cry.” Doing so will help your child understand their feelings better without suggesting that you are affected by their tantrum.

As soon as your child shows signs of being in control of their emotions again, turn towards them and shower them with positive attention (praising their effort, talking to them, eye contact, smile, cuddle etc,). This method will shape your child’s behaviour by teaching them a healthy boundary (where the rules remain followed) and helping them understand that the only way they are getting attention is in a positive way.

Some behaviours this technique will work with are:

  • Children who find it difficult to accept rules in the house/cannot take “No” for an answer
  • Disobeying instructions just to get a reaction, testing boundaries to see if you will give in
  • Arguing or name-calling behaviours
  • Whining behaviours
  • Engaging in behaviours of wanting to be in control (e.g. toileting refusal, refusal to eat, refusal to wear clothes, refusal to go to bed etc.)

This method should not be used for behaviours related to a distressed child or behaviours related to sensory integration as these behaviours are often not motivated by attention.

If being in control is an issue, ensure that you provide the child with many opportunities to make decisions and feel in control of their lives throughout the day. Through your choice of words when talking to the child and by offering the child opportunities to have a say in their daily routines (e.g. being able to choose their outfit for the day, having a responsibility such as feeding the pet or completing a household chore etc.), you will be able to build your child’s self-esteem.

Reversing the cycle

-ve A+ve

If your child has previously been successful at getting their way by crying and whining, it will take more effort to reverse the association. A child who has learned that they can get attention by engaging in negative behaviours will often rely on that technique due to predictability. The challenge is to turn the tables and help your child to understand that they will now receive attention only in a positive manner. When ignoring a child’s attempts to gain attention, we have to ensure everyone in the house reacts the same way to the behaviours because consistency is key!

5 ways to encourage parent-child communication – GEARS

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Child Development, Inclusive Education

1. Gauge

The very first step is to gauge your child’s current level of communication skills. This is very important because it does 2 things – it helps us understand what they already know how to do, and it allows us to understand what our next goal should look like. You may decide that your child does not communicate at all. This is a very common response I receive from parents and educators who naturally tend to define communication as “talking”. I urge you to think about communication as far more complex than just verbal communication. A baby is capable of communicating with others through their facial expressions, gestures, body language and production of sounds. We, as adults, rely heavily on written modes of communication (notes, text messages, emails) as much as other modes of communication. The following points may help you gain an insight into your child’s communication patterns:

  • How do you know when your child is happy/sad/angry – what does your child say/do?
  • Does your child use gestures such as pointing/hand signs/leading you by hand to a place/object of desire?
  • Does your child respond to his/her name when called? If so, how does your child respond?
  • Does your child request for items that are out of reach or out of sight? If so, how does your child make their request known to you?

2. Exposure

Consistent exposure to sounds and words helps a child’s brain build the necessary pathways required for the development of verbal communication skills. Understand and accept that communication is a skill that develops gradually over a long period of time. We spend our first year listening to words and sounds before we manage to mimic it ourselves. We spend 2 years of our lives learning words before we utter a few independently. This is a slow process, but trust that consistent repetitive exposure to sounds is the best way for a child’s brain to develop sound awareness and attach meanings to words.

3. Acknowledge

Always assume your child is communicating with you, even if it is not through verbal means. For young children and children who are developmentally delayed, it is normal for a child to prefer to communicate his/her feelings and thoughts in non-verbal manners – mainly through behaviours and body language. It is even normal for us adults to refrain from using words when we are feeling an intense emotion – think about adults giving each other the silent treatment or others who display their anger by slamming the table, storming off or giving each other the death stare. These are all normal expressions and ways to communicate. Therefore, always be the detective to look out for signs when your child is communicating with you. Acknowledge these attempts by responding enthusiastically to your child.

4. Reciprocate

Always respond to communication attempts in a back-and-forth communication style. Think about an adult communicating with an infant. Eye contact, smile, use of short words e.g. “hello” and then, waiting. Waiting is the most important step. What are we waiting for? A response of course! Communication is 2-way and you need to expect your child to respond. We are expecting an infant to respond to us so why not a child? Infants respond usually with facial expressions and cooing. We acknowledge that as a response and we create our next message. This pattern goes back and forth several times. It is this backward-forward pattern (reciprocity) that teaches a child how to communicate with others. It does not matter what you are saying to the child or what the child is communicating back to you. The most important part is to wait for their response (verbal/non-verbal) and to reciprocate. Most often, we know our children so well that we do not wait for their response because we already know what they need/want. We need to create an opportunity for them to respond to us.

5. Scaffold

Scaffolding is a method of teaching that mimics how our brain processes information. When teaching a child a new set of skills, it is important that we know what they can do already and set up situations to encourage the child to move into their next stage. A gentle stretch of skills is what we want. If we aim for a big jump, the child may get frustrated. If we fail to stretch the child, they may be too comfortable with their current communication level and may not be motivated to attempt new skills. So how can we scaffold communication skills?

Going back to our first point, it is important for you to gauge what your child can and cannot yet do. For example, if your child does not yet respond to their name, play games to encourage awareness of self. Singing songs to introduce yourselves, saying his/her name and waving hello to your child in front of a mirror can be a good way to encourage self-exploration. If a child is already communicating by leading you by arm to a place/item that they need, encourage them to point by pretending not to understand what they are asking for. Point at and label items to encourage them to learn to point and request for items. Pointing is a good way for children to understand the need to communicate – the fact that it will result in an outcome, it serves a purpose. If they are always understood without having to make an effort to communicate, it is unlikely that they will attempt to learn any other ways of communicating. Pretending not to understand a child and prompting them through picture cards (visuals), pointing at the object or repeating words are good ways to encourage them to make an effort to be understood. If your child has access to items they like/need, there is little opportunity for them to be motivated to communicate with you. One way to tackle this is to place a couple of items out of reach so this creates an opportunity for them to make a request. Requests can be made by saying the full word of the item (if they can repeat after you), by saying a partial word (e.g. ‘Bot’ for Bottle), by pointing at the item (when they are pointing, model the word for them “Bottle? You want the bottle?), by gestures or by showing you a picture of a bottle. All forms of communication should be encouraged. Parents have to be consistent and always model the word for them. The more they hear it, the better their chances of learning it.

Most importantly, be consistent and patient. The best way a child learns is when the child feels safe. The best way to create safety is through relationship-building. In my next post, I will cover relationship-building activities you can do with your child for just 15 minutes each day.

© 2020, Amarit Kaur