Ask yourself these 2 Questions before trying to change behaviors

There are two vital questions every parent should ask themselves when working toward improving their child’s behavior:

1. Why is my child behaving this way?

Work toward understanding the reason (yes, there is ALWAYS a reason) behind your child’s behavior. Don’t be so quick to blame it on exhaustion or hunger, although that can be a contributing factor, but identify the most prevalent reason your child is displaying a certain behavior in the moment. Are they doing it because they want out of something? Do they want access to a toy or activity? Do they want attention? Are they doing it simply because it feels good to them?

In order to get a good guess of why your child is displaying a certain behavior, examine what happened just before and after the behavior. Was something given to them that they don’t like? Was something taken away from them that they do like? Were they being deprived of your (or someone else’s) attention? Or were they doing it completely independent of your intervention?

For example, your child has just thrown a huge temper tantrum in the middle of their classroom. Just before the tantrum, you mentioned that you would be leaving them in their class to go to work. It is likely they are throwing the tantrum because they want access to you. You try staying until they calm down but once you decide to finally make a run for it, the screaming starts again and is even louder than the first time! You leave and your child eventually complies with the teachers instruction to sit down at their desk. However, after the teacher hands them an assignment, your child has another tantrum and throws himself to the ground once again. What is the most likely reason they had a tantrum now? It wasn’t to gain access to you, their parent. This time, it was to escape from the assignment the teacher just gave them. The teacher then tells them to go to the office and speak with the principal. After sitting down with the principal, your child decides to interrupt her and make rude comments under his breath. He smiles as she reprimands him. It’s possible he is enjoying the attention. You receive a call from a disgruntled principal, explaining everything that had happened with your child in the hours after you left for work. She asks you to come pick up your child. When he sees you enter the school office, he runs to hug you and smiles. It’s no wonder he is misbehaving, all this inappropriate behavior gets him access to his family and the opportunity to go home early!

2. What can my child do instead?

Once you have a grasp of why your child is displaying a certain behavior, it is time to solve the problem of how you can prevent it from happening again or at least happening as often. However, this doesn’t just mean discipline through reprimands or time-out every time, though that seems to be a knee jerk reaction for most parents. Reprimands and time-out are not always the answer, in fact they may rarely work at all or make the behavior even worse because they may not be addressing the reason for the inappropriate behavior in the first place. Your child is behaving this way for a specific reason, so you must give them another option, a better option, that gets them what they are seeking. In the above example, the child first starts throwing temper tantrums because they want access to their parent who has to leave for work as they are being dropped off at school. What can this child do instead of crying and throwing themselves to the floor to gain access to their parent? They can ask appropriately for their parent to stay 5 more minutes before class starts. We know this is not always possible. However, it can be planned for and as long as tantrums don’t get him what he is seeking, the child will eventually stop throwing tantrums for that reason. Instead of throwing a tantrum to escape from a school assignment, the child can ask appropriately for breaks, as needed. Instead of making inappropriate remarks to gain attention from school administrators, teachers, or peers, a child can be taught a more appropriate way for gaining attention, such as complimenting others or engaging in conversation during the right times.

It is important that the inappropriate behavior doesn’t get them what they’re seeking and that a new, more appropriate behavior does instead!

We hope that asking these two very important questions sets you on the right track to improvement in your child’s behavior and opportunity toward a brighter future!

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