No 1: All Behaviour Is Communication
Parents frequently ask about behaviour problems – these problems are common and distressing for children and parents. In this series of six podcasts, I have shared my understanding of achieving a stable solution for these problems.
All behaviour is communication.
So, let us begin with the first one;
All behaviour is communication.
When we communicate, we send a message, to others, about what we need or how we feel. And yes, we mainly communicate by speaking or sending text messages, but we also communicate using behaviour; in fact, most of the time, most of us are communicating through our behaviour. We smile or frown, look happy or upset, walk gently or thump the floor, wave as we leave or slam the door; we always convey some message through our behaviour. And so are the children with special needs. But, they are often relying on you to figure out what the message is. One thing you don’t want to say is that your child can not communicate. Given a suitable method and a receptive listener, all children can communicate. We might not always understand their message, but that needs some effort.
When the behaviour is challenging, when your child screams, when they hurt others, we often thinkthat the child is deliberately misbehaving, but rushing to punish the child does not help us to understand why the child does this or what they are communicating. It can take time and effort to work out what message their behaviour is telling us,
And if you understand the message behind their behaviour, you might do what needs to be done. It will help the child, and it will help you. And once you the parent, who knows the child best, starts reading these messages, you can make your child a happy and better-behaved child.
Now, let’s look at some of the examples of behaviours and the messages they might convey.
Hurting themselves or others
Repeatedly asking to go to the toilet
|I don’t know what words to use
I need that thing now,
I am hungry or thirsty
I need attention, and I feel lonely
I am worried and scared
I can’t stand the noise
I don’t know what to do next
I don’t know how to do this
I want to get out of this place
It hurts, my tummy/head hurts, do something about it.
Yes, you’re right; it’s not easy to work out which one of these messages the child is trying to convey through the behaviour. So I suggest you do two things:
First, pay attention to the child. To become a receptive listener, you need to listen to the language of behaviour with more than your ears, and you need to use your eyes, heart, and relationship. Notice the child and and have some faith in knowing your child, their expressions and reactions and you will hear what they are saying. When you do this, you calm their anxiety and help them. When you have a loving relationship with your child, you understand their needs and difficulties – hold on to this, and never let this thought leave you even in the most challenging moments.
The second thing you can do is to make it easier for the child to communicate their message:
If your child can use words and gestures but still struggles in conveying their message, then first reduce distractions when communicating with them, encourage them by facing them, look at them when they talk, be patient, give time and listen. Some children just need longer to process what they want to say. Praise them even for trying. If what they say is not clear, then say it back to them using the right words, gestures and expressions, and model, but don’t correct them – correcting every time they say something will reduce their motivation and desire to communicate.
If your child has a problem in using words to communicate, there are some ways you can use to make it easier for them. Start with using some common gestures – body language – and some pictures. Begin with about five words that are relevant to your child, which they need to use a lot and which help them get what they want, for example, no, yes, more, food, drinks or a daily activity. First, you choose the right gestures, drawings or pictures for that word and then model using those gestures, drawings or pictures, and then encourage the child to imitate, and reward them even for trying. Then use them consistently – get the whole family to use them. You can use them to help the child make a choice or ask for what they want. And slowly expand the range. If possible, ask a speech therapist for more information.
Helping your child communicate how they feel
Learning to know their feelings can be hard for many children with special needs, and if they don’t know how they feel, then all they feel is stress, which causes more anxiety and more challenging behaviour.
Try making some drawings or using pictures of an angry face or a scared face or simply cards of different colours, such as a red card, which they can show to others to convey that they feel stressed. It needs a bit of practice. It has to be used repeatedly before the child will get used to the idea and will start using it to convey their stress to you. And then you can do something about it before it all boils over into a big uncontrollable crisis. So, work on this one; it will be a great help.
Now, all children are different, and some respond to pictures or drawings, and others to gestures and signs. It is usually a lot easier for many children to use pictures or signs than use words. And using them does not stop children from talking – it calms them and helps them learn to talk.
Finally, communication is a two-way street. So you may also need to change how you communicate with your child. Briefly, get the child’s attention before you say anything, keep your language simple, loud, and clear, give one message at a time and use a lot of expressions. That will help your child understand your messages.
By listening attentively and affectionately to their behaviour and helping them communicate by using some simple alternative means such as gestures and pictures, you can become a much better listener of your child’s behaviour.
I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, All Behaviour Has A Reason, we will look at doing some detective work to discover the triggers that may be causing and maintaining the difficult behaviour. The whole series of podcasts, with their text, is at the website www.enablenet.info.
Take care, stay healthy. My best wishes are with you, and thanks for listening.
No 2: This is the second episode in the six-part series of podcasts about managing behaviour difficulties in children with special needs.
All behaviour has a reason.
On the one hand, it sounds an obvious statement, but on the other hand, children are often described as bad or deliberately misbehaving. Once you work out the reason behind the behaviour, you can do something about it. So, in this podcast, we will do some detective work to look for the reasons behind the behaviour.
First, make sure that there isn’t any underlying health reason. I say this because the health of children with special needs is sometimes overlooked. Many doctors don’t even properly examine them – they think that everything to do with the child is part of their special needs – totally wrong. But you, as the parent, keep an eye on it. Pay extra attention to it if the behaviour has suddenly changed. For example, the child may have constipation, a toothache or an earache. Is it possible that they’re not sleeping well for some reason, and that’s making them irritable? A girl may be in discomfort and pain because of her menstrual period. Is the child wetting or soiling, which may be causing the discomfort? Has the child started on some new medicine that may be causing irritability? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then take advice from a doctor, and when you see a doctor, share your concerns and insist that the child is examined and given the proper treatment.
Second step: Look for any change that may be affecting the child emotionally. Children are more sensitive to change than you may think. They are often affected by a change in the classroom or the teacher or a change at home. And if you feel that there has been a change, then make sure you explain it to the child. Use drawings, symbols or photos. Make a timeline, and reassure, comfort and support them.
Step three: Look out for slow and fast triggers or reasons behind the behaviour. Slow triggers are the ones that are going on in the background for some time. They make it more likely that bad behaviour will happen because they make the child anxious, upset and edgy. Noticing these slow triggers can help you understand that the child is finding some situations more challenging to cope with and are trying to say this through their behaviour. Some examples of conditions that act as slow triggers are: being tired or not sleeping well, not getting enough attention and being disengaged or bored, being hungry, or having sensory discomforts such as being in a crowded or noisy environment. Try minimising these slow trigger situations as much as you can. And by doing so, you would have considerably reduced the chances of challenging behaviour happening.
Fast triggers lighten the fuse and start the behaviour. Some examples of fast triggers are, being told to do something they don’t want to do or find it hard to do, being told ‘No’ to something they want to do, or something unexpected, such as a change of plan.
Slow and fast triggers combine to cause challenging behaviour. Children who are already stressed are more likely to react to a fast trigger than those who are not stressed. So, thinking about slow triggers and making a stress-reduction plan is a big step towards reducing challenging behaviour. And changing the way you give a direction or an explanation, timing it when the child is not stressed, and using an affectionate and supportive manner can usually take the sting out of the fast triggers.
Fourth step: Look for what seems to maintain the behaviour or makes it better or worse. Also, what does the child seem to get out of the behaviour? For example, someone’s attention or something tangible – food or a toy- or an escape from doing something? It will take some effort, but observing to work this out will be immensely helpful.
Keep a note or a diary. Write down any slow trigger, any fast trigger, the actual behaviour, what maintains the behaviour, and what the child seems to get out of it. Soon you will see a pattern and the reason. And you may also get a clue about what seems to make the behaviour better or worse.
Finally, the fifth step: Now that you have the information, you can make a plan.
I suggest you think along these lines:
- Can you make situations less stressful for them? Think about reducing sensory stresses, making transitions – changes from one to another situation – easier to manage by using visual timetables and improving communication.
- You may not be able to remove a trigger, but can you lessen its impact by giving the child the right kind of attention and comfort? You don’t have to give in to their wrong demand, but you can still say, “I know you are upset. I love you very much”. If the child doesn’t like doing something, you can help them cope by first making it clear how long a situation will last and what will follow it. You can use some ‘Now and Then’ cards to convey that. You can also help the child relax. Remember, you can’t just expect the child to relax when you ask them to relax; you need to teach your child some relaxation methods such as deep breathing, taking some time out to listen to music or lie down and relax the body. You cannot teach relaxation in the middle of challenging behaviour; it will only work if the child has done some practice earlier.
- Can you help them achieve their purpose differently, for example, by breaking down any work they find challenging in smaller chunks and giving them breaks? Or by giving them an alternative activity to do that they like? You can make it easier for the child to stop doing what they don’t like. For example, you can help them learn a sign or a word or photo card to say “Finish”. Again, practice any such method when the child is calm; only then your child can use it when things are difficult. If you help them do what they need to do, then many behaviour problems will go away.
Finally, think positively. Think of your child as a good child facing the slow triggers winding them up and then the fast triggers that make the whole behaviour boil out of control. Think about how you can become a better listener, understand the reasons behind the behaviour, adjust the environment to make it less stressful, help them communicate better and provide them with alternative activities that engage them and make them happy.
I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, we will talk about teaching your child some ‘good behaviour’. The more good behaviour there is, the less bad behaviour will happen. The full text of this podcast is on the website enablenet.info.
Stay healthy and take care. My best wishes are with you, and thank you for listening.
No 3: How to help your child learn good behaviour?
This is the third in the series of podcasts about improving your child’s behaviour. This podcast series is available on Google and apple podcasts and on the website that I’ll mention at the end of this podcast.
More good behaviour means less bad behaviour.
Parents often get so overwhelmed by their child’s challenging behaviour that when I ask, “is there any good behaviour that the child does?” they find it hard to remember and almost grudgingly say, “sometimes, yes, (he/she) does some good things”. Do you see what is happening here? We like children when they behave well, but we mostly notice them when they misbehave. So we pay attention to their bad behaviour, and we talk about their bad behaviour, and guess what happens? It increases their bad behaviour.
And when parents have remembered some good behaviour of the child, I remind them that this is the key, this means that your child can behave well and learn good behaviour. It means that you can increase their good behaviour, and then, the more the child will behave well, the less there will be a need or even an opportunity for the problem behaviour to show up. The more the child will get noticed as behaving well, the more others will praise them, which will build up their self-confidence, and they will be motivated to behave better, and you would have started a cycle of continuing good behaviour.
There are a few simple things you could do to achieve this.
First, spend a day or two paying close attention to all the ‘good’ behaviour your child does: asks you for something, gives you something, sits with you, eats food or drinks independently, shows affection, plays with another child, looks at books, tries to do something else that is not bad. There are lots of such things that all children do. What you have to do is start noticing them, giving attention to them when they do it, and praising them for it—talking about it in front of the child. That will make the child do the right thing again and again.
Next, let’s first look at how to choose which good behaviour to teach. Start with thinking of behaviours that will help the child most in getting through the day or getting along with others, or making it easier for them to do what they want to do.
Sharing things with others, responding when called, asking and getting other’s attention nicely, giving things to others, waiting, tidying up after playtime are just some examples that come to mind, but you know your child and your situation, you can easily think of many others. So before you choose, remember, there are some golden rules for choosing:
- Choose one behaviour at a time. Be realistic, and it will work.
- Let everyone in the family know about the behaviour you are working on, how you will do it, and let others work on the same behaviour.
Now, how to help the child learn the behaviour:
- Make that behaviour part of an activity; for example, tidying up toys is part of playing with toys.
- Make sure the child clearly understands what you want them to do. Use symbols and pictures to explain. If the task has two or three steps, then make a visual timeline for each step, for example, getting the box, playing with toys, putting toys in the box and putting the box away.
- Model the behaviour – do it yourself to show to the child. Talk about it as you do it “I am putting the toys in the box – tidying up time”.
- Help the child with prompting – even physically helping them put the toy in the box. Reduce the prompt as the child learns.
- Praise and reward: paying immediate attention to what they have done is a very rich reward, talking about it and making it visible – take a picture and show it to others in front of the child.
- Practice, practice and practice. And your child would have learnt good behaviour.
Now, let’s look at another example – learning to get other’s attention nicely. Choose this if the child tries to get your attention by hitting or screaming:
- Choose some situations when the child needs your attention. Anticipate the moment and model a sign, a sound, or holding the child’s hand and gently tapping your hand/arm with it. And then encourage the child to imitate.
- As soon as the child imitates, with or without prompting, give your full attention with a smile and praise!
- Make sure you notice when the child tries to get your attention appropriately and respond as soon as you can.
- If the child goes on to hit you, use a phrase such as “Hands down” (you may have to hold the child’s hands down as you say it) and prompt them to use what you have taught them earlier.
- Interact with the child regularly, give them plenty of opportunities to get positive attention.
- Where possible, ignore the hitting – but do not ignore the child.
Learning to cope with transitions
Moving from one activity to another is what we call transition. It is difficult for children for several reasons: they may have very rigid thinking and cannot accept that things change. In addition, they may be just finding it hard to understand directions particularly if the direction is made of several steps.
Using Visual timetables, ‘’now and then or ‘if and then’ cards are extremely useful, but their success relies on using and practising them. Keep your language simple and your sentences short.
Give a warning of what is to come next – practice using counting when one activity finishes and the next one begins, for example, counting up to 5 or clapping 3 times or 5 times. It helps children process and helps them get ready for the next activity and the change. And the problem behaviour caused by transitions will reduce.
And as for anything else, give them praise when they learn to cope with transitions.
Finally, I want to say something that is most important in helping your child learn good behaviour: whatever you do with the child, it must happen in a loving and caring relationship – there is no room for anger or blame here. Children behave and learn better when others give them love and care. You know that your child has to deal with all their difficulties and all the sensory and other stresses they face. You are the model for them, and they learn from you how to be loving and caring.
I hope these ideas will help you and your child. In the next podcast, we will talk about ‘What To Do When There Is A Crisis’. And if you haven’t yet reached there, go to the website www.enablenet.info, where you will find the full series and its text
Stay healthy and take care; my best wishes are with you, and thanks for listening.