When you think of challenging behaviors a child might have, it’s likely that you think of a toddler throwing a tantrum. But the truth is, challenging behaviors aren’t limited to toddlers. In fact, many children with autism spectrum disorder and even teenagers struggle to manage emotions and feelings which can lead to these unfavorable behaviors. The question is – what can be done to keep these behaviors under control?
For parents asking themselves this question, Brittany Schwanke, a behavior analyst for Henry Ford Health, says that these behaviors stem from your child’s learning history.
“When a child is little, they will often throw a tantrum to get what they want, and if you give them what they want, that becomes a learned behavior,” says Schwanke. “They understand that behavior gets them what they want so they continue with it. As your child gets older and this pattern continues, these behaviors can be more difficult to manage.”
Learning To Managing Challenging Behaviors
Here, Schwanke offers some tips to manage behaviors so you can avoid them going forward:
1. Understand why your child might be engaging in this behavior.
Tantrums and outbursts are often the climax of a larger situation. Take a moment to think about what could have caused your child to respond in this way. Remember, every child is unique, and their triggers may be different depending on a situation. Some situations that can trigger challenging behaviors include:
- Being unable to communicate what they want
- Wanting something they can’t have
- Being uncomfortable or wanting to avoid something
- A break in their routine
2. Create a safe space.
When your child is exhibiting a challenging behavior, start by clearing the area. If there are dangerous or breakable objects that your child could throw, make sure to move out of their reach. Also ask other people to leave the room to help your child feel more comfortable (that includes other adults and siblings).
3. Limit your words.
Giving your child a lecture or having multiple voices talking at your child at once can be very overwhelming. Instead, use your words to help them calm down and communicate why they are upset.
4. Give lots of choices.
When your child wants something, a straight “no” can be very frustrating. Instead, give them options. For example, if rain is preventing you from going to the park, maybe painting or listening to music would be fun to do instead.
5. Make accommodations.
As a parent, you have the ability to change how your child responds in a situation by working with their specific needs. “For example, if your child gets upset when they go to the grocery store with you, try offering them headphones or a toy so they have something else to focus on,” says Schwanke. “If you know they will only last 15 minutes before they reach their limit, keep your trips short or go grocery shopping without them (if you are able).”
6. Talk to your pediatrician.
Share your child’s behavior patterns and triggers with their doctor. If your child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, your doctor can refer you to applied behavioral assessment, or ABA therapy, to help learn more about these behaviors. Some other best practices your doctor might suggest include:
- Create a predictable schedule for your child
- Reward good behaviors and communication
- Set boundaries for what sorts of behaviors are expected and discouraged.
“As long as you continue to reward challenging behaviors, your child will continue to engage in them,” says Schwanke. “Early intervention is the best way to make sure your child doesn’t bring these behaviors with them as they grow up."
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If your child has severe challenging behaviors, Crisis Management Training can help you learn skills to manage these behaviors. Learn more about Crisis Management Training at Henry Ford Health.
Brittany Schwanke, BA, is a behavior analyst who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Southfield.