Autism and Behaviour
Children who behave well, get on better with others. Many children with autism have behavioural difficulties that affect their socialising and learning. Reducing these difficulties makes it easier for parents, teachers and others to look after and help them. Improving behaviour is not just children’s responsibility, parents and teachers also contribute to it. Knowing what to do, how to do, and learning the skills and methods can help parents and teachers in improving children’s behaviour.
Why do children with autism have difficult behaviour?
Some factors affect the behaviour of all children:
– All children want attention. They want their demands to be met promptly. If for some reason, this does not happen to their satisfaction, they tend to display difficult behaviour to achieve what they want.
– Sometimes, children try to get what they want by displaying unwanted behaviour. Most parents give in to the demands of their child when the behaviour becomes too much of a trouble for them. It is no wonder that children then learn this way of getting their demands met.
– Children often display unwanted behaviour when they need to get out of a stressful or difficult situation.
– Children do not fully understand other’s feelings, thinking or situation, which increases the chances of their behaviour not being right for the situation.
– Children’s control of their emotions and behaviour is underdeveloped. That is why their responses are often angry and disproportionate.
– Children tend to repeat their behaviour if they get a certain reaction from others (laughing at their behaviour, shouting at them, getting angry with them or hitting them) or if others give in to their demands.
Behaviour difficulties are more common in children with autism because:
– Autism affects children’s ability to understand other’s intention, desires and situations. This lack of understanding creates anxiety and frustration and adversely affects their behaviour.
– Difficulty in communicating one’s needs, desires and feelings can be an immense source of frustration for children with autism. If we could magically change their behaviour into words, they might be saying things like:
● “I’m scared/anxious” or “I want to get out of here” or “I don’t want to do this anymore”
● “I’m bored” or “I don’t know what to do next”
● “I really hate that noise … turn it off.”
● “I’m very hungry/thirsty.”
● “I have a terrible headache/tummy ache.”
● “Please don’t move my things, I need them to be where they always have been. It really upsets me.”
– Hypersensitivity to some aspect of the environment (to a crowded space, physical contact, light or sounds) creates anxiety and stress, which makes the behaviour worse.
– Difficulties in regulating their emotions: The ‘thermostat’ that controls how far one goes with an emotional reaction, is poorly developed in children with developmental difficulties; it triggers a minor issue into a major reaction and difficult behaviour.
– Children with autism have difficulty understanding other’s interests and perspectives, social boundaries and personal space, and how to behave appropriately in different social situations.
– For most children with Autism, it is extremely difficult to shift from one idea or activity to another Idea or a new activity or change a plan, even though it may be more suitable or appropriate. Defiance is often an expression of their rigidity.
– Anxiety is common in autism. It makes the child feel stressed or scared and their behaviour is more likely to be volatile.
As it is true for all children, children with autism always have a reason behind the behaviour. While the behaviour is visible to others, its reasons are often hidden like the hidden part of an iceberg. It requires careful observations and understanding of their situation to work out the reasons behind their behaviour.
It must be very clear that while the issues related to Autism may explain why a child has difficult behaviour, they are not an excuse the unwanted behaviour to continue. Their behaviour can be improved with the right understanding and approach.
Managing behaviour difficulties of children with autism
There are five essential steps for reducing difficult behaviour
1. Reducing the conditions or situations that trigger or worsen unwanted behaviours
2. Creating a positive relationship with the child
3. Increasing the child’s “good” or “right” behaviours
4. Teaching new “good” or “right” behaviours to the child
5. Managing the wrong or unwanted behaviour
Over-focusing on the wrong or unwanted behaviour could reduce such behaviour for a short time, but it increases the possibility of such behaviour re-emerging or a new wrong or unwanted behaviour starting.
Initially, you would have to understand and practice each of these steps separately. However, after some time, this will become your way of working with your child in all everyday situations, which would make it a lot easier and it would also maintain your child’s behaviour.
Reducing the conditions or situations that trigger or worsen unwanted behaviours
1. Can the child communicate his needs? Not being able to communicate needs is a common reason for children becoming frustrated. Help the child learn suitable means of communication, such as signs, symbols or pictures for conveying essential needs.
2. Does the child understand what others say? Keep your language very simple, give instructions in small simple parts, use gestures and facial expressions and consider using signs/symbols to improve the child’s understanding.
3. Does the child understand what needs to be done and when? does the child become anxious when starting any new activity? Use a visual timetable to explain the sequence of events, daily routines and what needs to be done when. Keep the visual timetable available to the child to make it simpler for the child to follow it. Give the child some time for shifting from one activity to another (use counting, clapping or singing little rhymes). This would reduce the level of anxiety, make the child calmer and make it easier for the child to shift activities or to start a new activity.
4. Does the child know how to ask for help? children often get frustrated with not being able to do what they need or want to do. They should know an easy way of getting help verbally, by using gestures or expressions or by using symbols or signs.
5. Does the child become upset on hearing certain sounds or loud noises? Try reducing background sounds and noise or try getting the child to use a headphone. See: Helping a child with hypersensitivities.
6. Does the child gets upset by some other aspect of the situation? Children with autism don’t like people standing around and watching them. Try to make the environment free of such interruptions and give the child some time and space to relax. Teach the child Ways of relaxing and becoming calm.
7. If the child is tired or stressed, let the child rest first.
You should also make everyone related to the child aware of these issues and ways of reducing the stress for the child.
Creating a positive relationship with the child
Although there is always a mutual bond of love between parents and children, creating a positive relationship needs some effort. Children behave and learn better in an environment where such a positive relationship exists. Parents provide a model for children to learn from. When parents act positively children respond positively, and their behaviour and learning improves.
How to create a positive relationship?
To create a positive relationship, you need to join and engage in activities with the child. Such joining in requires:
– your full availability and attention,
– your full awareness, and
– use of the positive ways of working with the child
It is practically not possible to do this all the time, and it is not required either. Parents are busy, have a lot of things to do and children also need their own time. Initially, you should try to find 3or 4 such times in a day when you can engage with your child without interruption. Once you are used to this way of engaging, it would become easy for you to do so at other times too.
A method for joining in with the child:
– Let the child take the lead in choosing an activity based on his or her interests. Do not direct the child, do not impose your wishes on the child and do not ask questions. Children often like repeating some activities because they enjoy doing these activities and they also learn from such repetitions. Have patience and engage with what the child is doing, do not try to redirect the child to do something else.
– Sit close to the child, give your full attention, listen to what the child says and try to imitate what the child does.
– Describe, in easy language, what the child does, for example, “You have made a tower”, “the doll likes the food”.
– If something goes wrong, support the child “never mind, this happens, let’s try again”.
– Don’t find flaws, only give praise, for example, “Raju, this is very nice!”, “you are great”, “that is a great idea”, “you are the best”. Show enthusiasm in your speech and expressions.
– Praise the child’s play, drawing, activity or behaviour in front of others.
– At least at the beginning, choose a time for effective engagement with the child when you’re not in a rush or distracted. Once you have practised these activities, it will become your second nature and you would be able to join in with the child as part of your day to day work and activities.
Such effective engagement in activities would improve the child’s self-confidence. They would pay better attention to what you say. Their language and social interaction would improve and their interest in others would increase.
How do children learn good behaviour?
1. Children learn behaviour from their experience, particularly when they get something, like a reward out of it. Here, the reward does not mean the same as getting something on winning a competition but a good experience, such as being praised, given attention or affection. Getting what they want, whether it is a toy, an object or the permission to do what they want to do motivates children to behave in a certain way. When a behaviour does not result in a good experience or reward, that behaviour, good or bad, tends to decrease.
2. The reward needs to be given immediately for the child to make a connection between the behaviour and the reward. At least initially, it also needs to be given every time after the right behaviour. In time, even intermittent rewarding can reinforce the learnt behaviour.
3. When being taught a new behaviour, children must clearly understand what is expected – what is it that they are required to do – must be made clear to them
4. It is easier to learn a new behaviour if it is part of the sequence of a regularly occurring activity, such as ‘tidying up toys’ is part of the activity ‘playing with toys.
5. Regular practice is the best way to learn anything. Children need opportunities to practice the new behaviour.
6. Children also learn new behaviour by observing others. Parents’ and carers’ behaviour is a model for them to learn from.
Increasing the child’s “good” or “right” behaviours
Improving children’s good behaviour, helps them learn better, improves their social interaction with others and improves the cohesion in the family.
Every child, even the one who frequently misbehaves, does somethings right in a day, which often go unnoticed. These occasional moments of “goodness” can be increased by giving the child attention and praise. If done properly, this can be an effective way of improving the child’s overall behaviour. Such improvements have a long-lasting effect on children’s behaviour. Once you have learnt the method of increasing children’s good behaviour, you can make that your way of working with the child and use it with ease in every interaction.
Watch your child carefully, think about his behaviour and make two lists:
List 1: The good behaviours that your child shows, even if occasionally:
Such behaviours often go unnoticed. You should pay attention to the list of little behaviours mentioned below and think whether your child shows some of them at some time during the day.
1) Playing or doing some activity by himself
2) Sitting beside you
3) Playing with you
4) Looking at the pictures in a book
5) Listening to a story
6) Asking for something from you using language or gestures
7) Giving something to others spontaneously or when asked
8) Saying hello or greeting others
9) Showing affection towards others
10) Eating food properly
11) Following instructions
List 2: Items or activities that your child likes or finds interesting
Parents know their child’s likes and dislikes. You and other carers could use items or activities from this list to motivate or reward the child. The following examples will help you draw your list:
1) First, don’t forget the most important reward: Children love getting attention, being praised and receiving affection. Think, how you praise your child and how you show your affection towards them. Your voice, your expressions and your behaviour must make it obvious that you are showing appreciation and affection.
2) Using some stickers or pictures, such as ‘golden stars’: Children love such a reward. These can be made easily and given freely to the child. You could use a calendar to a stick a star on the day when the child has shown good behaviour. This would help the whole family in praising the child – whoever saw the calendar would say “Wow, your behaviour has been really good today”. It can also be used to motivate the child: “If you win 7 stars then you will get —— as a reward”.
3) Any toy or play activity that the child really likes can be used as a reward for the child’s good work or activity “you’ve done so well today, you can play with this toy”
4) Giving the child a book or reading a story as a reward
5) Giving the child some food that he loves, as a reward
6) Singing a song or playing some music that the child likes
7) Doing the child’s preferred activities, such as some outdoor or indoor game
Activity: encouraging the child’s good behaviour
Use the following sequence:
a. Bring the list of the child’s good behaviours to the attention of the whole family and other carers. Always keep your eyes open for these behaviours.
b. Whenever anyone notices any good behaviour:
– Give praise and affection to the child. This will also increase the child’s self-confidence and social skills.
– Give attention to the following when giving praise and affection:
– Use the child’s name when praising him or her. For example, “Raju, you were playing really well/ Good asking / Well done for giving / you ate your food really well”.
– Tell the child that you really liked what he did
– While praising, be in front of the child and give your full attention
– Share the praise with others when the child is around
c. Include the whole family in this process to increase the opportunities for such interactions
d. When motivating the child to increase behaviours that only occur when the child is doing activities of his interests, rewards from the second list can be used.
Ways of rewarding children
There are two ways of rewarding children:
1. Giving a reward immediately after some good behaviour
2. Giving a reward in a planned way, for example giving the child 1 point for every good behaviour and then giving a reward when the child accumulates 10 points. Usually, this can be done when the child is 3 to 4 years or older. This way of rewarding motivates children and helps them learn to wait for the reward.
Pay attention to the following when giving rewards in a planned way:
a. Make only one such a scheme or plan at any one time. Explain it clearly to the child, if required, use pictures, symbols or a visual timetable to explain.
b. The expected behaviour should be such that the child can do.
c. The reward should be such that the child likes.
d. Give the reward as planned and combine it with praise.
e. Only give the reward once the expected behaviour has happened; don’t give the reward first and expect the good behaviour to happen after it.
Teaching children new “good” or “right” behaviours
Using the right method, behaviour can be taught to a child. Once a child learns good behaviour, they are more likely to use it when prompted and encouraged. When the child shows the right behaviour, they are praised for it. When praised, the child gains self-confidence and becomes motivated to behave in the same way again. This sets up a virtuous cycle of learning good behaviour that has a lasting effect on the child’s behaviour and on the overall family functioning.
The sequence for teaching a new behaviour
1: Finding time: Initially, you would have to practice how to teach a new behaviour, it’ll be easier if you choose two or three times during the day when you have few or no distractions.
Once you have practised and learnt the method, you’d be able to use it easily, anytime during your daily routines.
2: Work on Reducing the conditions or situations which trigger or worsen unwanted behaviours to make it easier for the child to learn.
3: Choose the behaviour that you want to teach your child, for example, you may want to teach the child how to tidy up the toys after a play session. It may help to choose a behaviour by looking at the List 1 that you had prepared earlier.
4: Choose a task or an activity that includes the behaviour that you have chosen. It is much better to work on the whole activity than only on one isolated behaviour.
The sequence for teaching the child a behaviour that is part of an activity:
Using the activity ‘playing with toys’ as an example:
1: It will be better to plan this activity in 4 parts:
1) Taking toys out from a bag or a box 2) Playing with the toys 3) Tidying up the toys 4) Moving on to another task or activity (it will help if this task or activity is also of interest to the child)
2: Use a visual timetable to explain the sequence of the above four parts to the child.
[ Keep the situation in your control, only have things related to the activity in front of you and keep the rest away in a bag or a box]
3: Use words, symbols or pictures to explain to the child the sequence of moving on to the next task once finished playing.
4: Be engaged with the child in the play. When the playtime is finished, use words or gestures to say “playtime finished, tidy up time”; use a visual timetable to communicate this if required.
5: Get the child’s attention, and model by putting one or two toys in the box or in the bag. Wait for 5 seconds and look at the child expectantly and encouragingly.
6: If the child does not follow, repeat your modelling. Wait for 5 seconds. Prompt the Child by holding the child’s hand and encouraging at the same time. Wait for 5 seconds and look at the child expectantly and encouragingly.
7: Whenever the child does the expected behaviour, offer praise by naming the child and the behaviour, for example, “Raju, you tidied up the toys really well.”
8: Use the visual timetable to help the child to move on to the next task.
9: Use every opportunity to praise the child in front of others “Today Raju tidied up really well.”
10: Inform and include the rest of the family and others working with the child to practice this behaviour.
How to model good behaviour to teach it to your child?
Children learn both good and bad behaviour from others by watching them.
If you want to model behaviour for your child to learn, first make sure of the following three things:
1. The child should be able to pay attention to you
2. The child should be able to imitate you
3. You should have a positive relationship with your child
How to strengthen your child’s ability to pay attention to you and to imitate your activities?
– In play activities, engage with the child and take turns with the child
– While engaging with the child, imitate the child’s activity (don’t make fun of the child) and encourage the child to imitate yours
– Create enjoyable activities encouraging the child to imitate your gestures and expressions
Use Creating a positive relationship with your child to strengthen your relationship.
Once you’re comfortable, that your child has all the above 3 abilities, then use the following sequence:
– Choose a time when the child is calm
– Get your child’s attention and model the activity to be learnt (for example, greeting others or brushing teeth)
– Wait for 5 seconds and repeat your modelling
– Physically prompt the child by holding the child’s hands
– Praise the child as soon as he attempts to copy the behaviour or does it on prompting. Do not point out any flaws.
– Practice it repeatedly, each time giving a little bit less prompting and support
– Continue to praise the child for making the effort.
Some activities need to be taught in steps, for example:
– Asking for help using a word, symbol or sign
– Saying no, using a word, symbol or sign, when the child doesn’t want to do something
The child needs to be taught:
1. when to do it
2. how to do it
These steps are best taught using a visual timetable, modelling and prompting. Once the child has learnt these behaviours, he would need to be given full attention to asking or for saying no.
How to help children in doing routine activities independently?
A good way of getting children to do some activities independently is to teach them some routines with fixed sequences. Children with autism find it easier to do routines with fixed sequences. One can use routines for activities that happen many times a day or in a similar way every day, such as having a meal, playing with toys, getting ready for school or getting ready for bed. It becomes much easier for children to cooperate once they get used to routines.
One part at a time
First, divide each routine into small parts and then teach one part at a time, for example:
– Sitting at the right place to have food + eating food properly
– Bringing the Toy Box or bag + Playing with the toys + tidying up the toys
– Changing clothes for getting ready for going to bed + brushing teeth + lying in bed and listening to a story
– Brushing teeth has four steps to it: 1) Washing the toothbrush 2) putting toothpaste on the toothbrush 3) brushing teeth 4) Rinsing mouth with water
Set up some ground rules
It helps to make some ground rules (1, or maximum 2), for example, no hitting and no throwing of things. Write these rules on a paper or a poster, use some drawings or pictures and remind the child of these ground rules every time a routine is practised.
– Use symbols, drawings or pictures to make visual timetables for each part of the activity
– Use this visual timetable to explain each part to the child, one at a time.
– Use modelling, prompting and encouraging to teach each part
– Praise the child for completing each part
– Once the child learns each part, explain the sequence using symbols, drawings or pictures
– Use modelling, prompting and encouraging to do the whole activity together
– Praise the child for doing the whole activity
Getting children to follow instructions
No child follows every instruction given by their parents, that is normal! However, some situations make it harder for children to do as they’re told.
Paying attention to the following would help you improve the child’s positive response to instructions:
These factors make it harder for children to comply:
– The child not understanding the instruction:
Make your language simple and give instructions in small parts. If required, use signs, symbols or pictures.
– Children who do not have a positive relationship with their parents may not follow the instructions. See developing a positive relationship with your child
Doing the following improves compliance:
– To start with, you want the child to practice following instructions. Initially, give instructions about tasks that the child would want to do. The child would develop a habit of following instructions.
– As soon as the child follows instruction, offer praise. Praise the child’s behaviour in front of others. Do not criticise the child for not following your instructions.
– Think before giving an instruction: do I really need to give this instruction. Only give the instruction that is really needed. Don’t give too many instructions.
– If you feel that the child is in a hurry or is unlikely to follow the instruction for some other reason, then don’t give it.
– First, get your child’s attention towards you and then speak in a simple and clear language.
– Don’t sound angry.
– If there is a reason for giving the instruction, then say that reason first (We are going out and it is time to tidy up your toys).
– Don’t make your instructions negative (don’t do this, don’t do that). Try using a positive tone (now you do —-).
– If the child is doing something else, give a little time for the child to shift to do another task (You can do —-for five more minutes and then do —–).
– Sometimes, it is worth giving a little time for the child to process and follow your instruction, have patience!
– Once you have given instruction then try to stick to it; changing rules and instructions for your convenience do not lead to good learning about following instructions.
– If you have promised a reward to motivate the child, then you must give the reward once the instruction is followed.
Reducing unwanted behaviours
What to do when a child behaves badly?
First, do not react inappropriately
Dealing with unwanted behaviours is difficult for everyone. Parents often react inappropriately because of the stress of the situation, their habit or not knowing how to react correctly.
Use these ‘golden rules’ of what not to do:
– Don’t become angry or shout at the child, that will only increase the bad behaviour
– Don’t laugh at the child’s unwanted behaviour or make fun of the child
– Don’t be harsh or force the child
– Don’t argue with the child
– Don’t give in to child’s demands just because the behaviour is demanding
– Don’t be inconsistent: sometimes agreeing to the child demands and at other times refusing
– Don’t try to please the child by giving rewards
– Don’t try to teach the right behaviour when the child is behaving badly
– Don’t criticise the child in front of others
Not reacting inappropriately helps improve children’s behaviour. Being inconsistent, sometimes reacting appropriately and at other times not, ensures the continuation of the unwanted behaviour. This must be explained to the whole family and carers working with the child.
The right way of responding to unwanted behaviour
You would have to think, understand and plan the right way of responding to your child’s unwanted behaviour. You would also need to include the whole family in this plan because that makes it a lot easier to manage these behaviours.
The first step of forming the right response:
Think carefully about the answers to the following questions as they relate to your child:
1. What is unwanted behaviour and in what situations does it happen? Have you tried to do something about adapting the situation to suit the child or reducing the child’s stress?
2. What would have been the right behaviour for the child to do in that situation? For example, instead of crying and getting angry the child could have communicated needs or desire by using word, signs or symbols, taken rest if tired or communicated about being stressed.
3. Have you tried teaching the child some of these right behaviours when the child has been behaving reasonably and practised them repeatedly so that the child can use them when needed?
Second step: Interrupt and redirect:
If you pick up early that the child is going to start an unwanted behaviour:
a. try interrupting by redirecting the child to the desired behaviour that you have been practising. You can only do this if the child has practised doing the right behaviour earlier; you cannot teach the right behaviour when the child is upset.
b. Keep ignoring the unwanted behaviour and help the child by giving prompts in showing the desired behaviour.
c. Give praise and rewards if the child tries to show the desired behaviour.
Third step: Convey disapproval if the unwanted behaviour could not be interrupted
1. Convey your disapproval, without showing any anger:
a. Get the child’s attention,
b. Say “No, don’t do that” or “stop” in a firm and calm voice and facial expressions of displeasure.
2. Give about 10 seconds for the child to respond, stay calm;
3. If the child persists with unwanted behaviour, repeat displeasure. If the child continues with the unwanted behaviour go to the next step.
Fourth Step: Ignoring the wrong behaviour
It is not easy to ignore a child displaying unwanted behaviour. Parents try but lapse; the give the child the wrong type of attention or give in to the child’s demands out of affection or due to the stress of the situation. Such off-and-on way of responding works like playing the lottery for the child and increases the unwanted behaviours. This leads to parents wrongly concluding that this method does not work.
Some behaviours are not caused by the need to get others’ attention or to get the demands met, for example, getting upset or angry due to frustration caused by difficulty in communicating, stealing food or eating the wrong type of food due to being hungry or a learnt behaviour. You must first think what may possibly be causing the behaviour; you would need to help the child learn ways of communicating and get better yourself at responding to the child’s signals.
Activity: Think and plan about how to follow the guidance below; you would also need to include the whole family in this plan.
1. Choose one unwanted or wrong behaviour, such as the child getting very angry with not getting the demands met
2. You would need to ignore the child’s crying and all the expressions that go with it, not because you don’t love your child but because you want the behaviour to improve
3. While ignoring, you would need to involve yourself in doing some other activity
4. As soon as the child calms down, you would need to give your full attention to the child – you are ignoring the behaviour, not the child.
5. Do not argue with the child or criticise the child. you are trying to remove your attention from the child and give a message that the child does not get attention by doing the wrong behaviour.
6. Do not criticise this behaviour afterwards. Praise every good behaviour. Encourage the family to do the same.
On applying this method children’s behaviour can deteriorate for a few days before it starts improving. Be patient, hold your nerves and get help from others, but stick to the right methods for helping your children’s behaviour difficulties.
Fifth Step: using consequences
Children behave in a certain way for a reason or to get some result. When children behave well, they could be rewarded to motivate them to behave well again. Likewise, giving them certain consequences, that they do not like could put them off from repeating the unwanted behaviour. So far, you have worked on motivating children by rewarding them, such as by praising them or giving them rewards for their good behaviour – this is the best way for promoting good behaviour in children. You have also worked giving the child a negative consequence, such as denying the child your attention whenever the child shows any unwanted behaviour. A similar technique is giving Timeout as a negative consequence for their unwanted behaviour.
In Timeout, a child is removed from their preferred activity or place and they are sent for a brief period (mostly 3 minutes) to sit on a chair or a mat on their own without any other attention being given to them. This technique is mostly used for children over the age of 5 years for some negative behaviours that seem to be stuck, such as the child not following instructions. This technique does not apply to and is not used for children’s repetitive sensory or motor behaviours in autism.
The technique for using the Timeout method
1. Choose one behaviour at a time, for example,
a. The child repeatedly refusing to follow an instruction,
b. The child refuses to follow some rule at home or at the school,
c. You should only work on one behaviour at a time.
2. While using this method (though you should always be doing this) try to praise every good behaviour that your child does.
3. Explain the rule of the timeout method when the child is calm. Explain, on doing what behaviour, where does the child has to go (give a name to this place such as a “thinking place”) and for how long.
4. Whenever the child does the unwanted behaviour ask the child to go to the designated place for 3 minutes.
5. Don’t argue with the child and don’t talk about anything else. Keep yourself calm.
6. As soon as the child finishes the Timeout period, ask the child to do what he/she was supposed to do, such as following an instruction.
7. Give a lot of praise as soon as the child tries to do the right thing.
8. Don’t make fun of the child and don’t criticise the child.
9. Remember the child is learning a lot from your expressions and gestures, not just from your words.
The purpose of Timeout is to make the child experience a consequence of his behaviour that he would not like. During the time out, you must remove your attention from the child. To benefit from this method the child must understand what is happening and why. If the child does not have this sort of understanding, then this method is unlikely to work.
Many parents use negative consequences for their children’s unwanted behaviour, such as removing their preferred items or activities from them, giving them Timeout or even punishing them, to teach them the right way of behaving. The best way of teaching children good behaviour is to have good relations with them, teach them some good behaviours and make the situation less stressful for them. Punishing children negatively affects their self-confidence. It also increases the chances of other unwanted behaviours developing later.
What to do If the child becomes too upset?
a. try to calm the child without giving too much attention. Acknowledge the feelings without giving in to the child’s behaviour “I know you are very upset but first calm down”,
b. minimise your emotional response,
c. don’t give in to the child’s demand,
d. don’t bribe or negotiate at this point,
e. remain aware of the child’s and others’ safety, act promptly if anyone is at the risk of getting hurt.
Once the child has calmed down, give your full attention and express your liking for the calm behaviour. Don’t criticise the child. You should meet the child’s reasonable demands at this point.
Reducing self-injurious (hitting/biting self) behaviour
Such behaviour makes it very hard to look after children. Parents and teacher often react wrongly to such behaviour, which unfortunately feeds into the behaviour and perpetuates it.
As we have discussed earlier most behaviours happen for a reason. Paying attention to the child to understand the reasons behind their behaviour is always helpful. The following stepwise guidance can be helpful in managing such behaviour:
– Children often choose such behaviour when they are frustrated or distressed. Modifying situations to make them less stressful is likely to be helpful.
– Another common reason behind such behaviour is difficulties in understanding and expressing. Improving the child’s communication helps in reducing such behaviours.
– Children may also do such behaviour to get what they want, to reduce their boredom or to escape from a task that they don’t want to do. Teaching children right behaviours to convey their needs and desires, practising these behaviours, encouraging the child to use this behaviour and rewarding the child whenever such behaviour is used.
– Increasing children’s existing good behaviours and increasing the time that they engage in other activities would decrease the opportunities for indulging in self-injurious behaviours.
– Some children do these self-injurious behaviours to generate certain sensations. Consider giving the child access to other sensation generating toys and activities such as for chewing, touching, stroking and sound/music making. Create opportunities for the child to play with such material, sometimes the child needs to practice using them.
– When a child seems to be doing such behaviour for seeking others’ attention, remove attention from such behaviour and instead give the child a lot of attention and praise for any other alternative behaviour such as playing with a toy or a sensory activity. You would need to teach the child alternative behaviour and practice it.