Screaming, hitting, biting, flopping, self-injurious head banging, defiance. Does this sound like a regular Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night (or day, if you’re a teacher) with your youngster? If so, you must be frustrated and exhausted. Being able to manage challenging behaviour can be difficult, especially if it happens frequently.
The good news is that there are things you can do to tame tantrums (even eradicate them), so life is more enjoyable for everyone. The first step is to understand who acts out and why.
Behaviour deficits usually go hand-in-hand with skill deficits. Your child is more likely to have challenging outbursts on a regular basis when they have delayed language skills, limited skill repertoire (tasks that they find aversive), sensory impairments or difficulties with waiting or unstructured time.
Purpose of behaviour
When Sally or Sam tantrum, their desire isn’t to push you to your wits’ end. Rather, an inability to communicate their needs properly is usually at the root of problematic behaviour. For example, if Sam can’t effectively tell you that he needs quiet time or your attention, he may resort to hitting, crying or head banging to convey his wants. Every behaviour has purpose – here are some of the common drivers behind outbursts:
1. Escape: They act out to avoid doing something they don’t want to do.
2. Attention: Behaviour flares up in an attempt to have full attention from family, teachers or friends.
3. Tangible: Wanting a preferred item or activity or to do something in a particular way, the child misbehaves.
4. Sensory: The behaviour makes them feel good or provides relief from sensory overload.
In Part 2 we focus on how to find out what’s specifically triggering your child.
We also have a Part 3 in our Managing Challenging Behaviour post here!