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Guiding our children

November 9, 2009

by Jenni Sebora

If you have children or have worked with children in some capacity, there will certainly be times when the children test us and their own limits.

For 10 years I worked with an organization, Family Support Network, which then changed its name to Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota. I worked with the children’s programs as a program leader and resource coordinator.

I attended and conducted many trainings on children’s programming, as well as on children’s activities and managing behavior. I worked with many different children, parents, volunteers, and leaders throughout the state of Minnesota with one goal: providing safe, supportive and loving environments for children. It was one of my most challenging yet rewarding experiences, and I learned a lot from the children themselves. (Actually being a mom or a parent is the most challenging and rewarding job one can have.)

I feel that working with children is the most rewarding endeavor; yet, can be the most challenging. Children are their own beings with their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is our job to help teach them about the world and how to function in it. We are their guides.

As our children are orientating through this map of life, they may exhibit some of what we, as adults, call challenging or disruptive behavior

What strategies can you use to help a child or children who are displaying behavior that is challenging? The goal is to encourage children to make healthy positive choices for themselves, but while our children are developing and growing, they will need our help in learning and doing this.

Much of what we think of as misbehavior is actually limit-testing behavior or children’s attempts to find out answers to their very own questions (“Setting Limits” by Robert J. MacKenzie).

Behavior can often be interrupted and replaced with more appropriate behavior. Try these strategies:

Give a redirection as soon as you can.

Move the child to a new area.

Turn them around to face a new direction.

Use humor to redirect their behavior, as well.

Start joking or playfully interrupt the situation. Begin a new task to gain their attention to it.

There are also general principles to help guide the prevention of challenging behavior. One of these principles is establishing a routine at home. Children function best when they know what is coming and what is expected of them.

Child-proof areas of your home to help with safety, as well as the prevention of challenging behavior and negative disciplining.

Set limits. Children need to know what the limits are. Be consistent with the rules and follow through with them, but make sure they are realistic and appropriate for their age. If your child seems to be engaging in misbehavior often, reevaluate your rules to see if you are expecting too much. Reasonable expectations are important.

Questions we can also ask ourselves when we experience the “why won’t my child behave?” feeling: Am I expecting too much for my child’s age? Do I always say no? Do I tend to scream? Am I too strict? Have there been major changes in our homes and lives? Am I under a lot of stress? (pamphlet written with the help of Bellflower Center for Prevention of Child Abuse, Cleveland Ohio)

Experts say: be consistent with your rules. Be a role model and set good examples yourself. If you tell your children to not raise their voices at each other and use indoor voices for example, don’t raise your voice at your spouse, at the very least, not in front of your children.

Know your own children. What works for one child sometimes may not necessarily be appropriate for another child, especially if they are of different ages and at different stages in their development. Fair does not necessarily mean the same for each child, and this can be difficult.

Very importantly, we have to remember to recognize appropriate behavior that our children engage in. If we always just give attention to their negative behavior and ignore positive behavior, they may repeat the negative to gain our attention.

Rewarding and recognizing positive behavior can help with self-esteem and also tells what behavior you expect. It is also more enjoyable for everyone involved when we can take this positive approach. It is a win-win situation.