Manage adults at work? Sure.
Negotiate a solution with difficult staff? Sure.
Manage a challenging child? Suddenly, some parents can be reduced to screaming, sobbing or irrational beings. So it is not surprising that at almost every parenting seminar I am asked for a quick fix for challenging behaviour. This is understandable, as a defiant, aggressive or emotional child can be a confusing, bewildering but very powerful force.
My first answer is not to look for the quick fix, as there is rarely such a quick solution.
Also, any self-ordained parenting expert, promising a sure fire, rapid answer, should be examined further as to their genuine qualifications.
There is no quick fix, as challenging kids are almost always unique individuals, with distinct personalities and innate traits, as well as being driven by specific emotions.
In simpler terms, kids with challenging behaviour are often born with a certain personality, such as a defiant nature, as well as being defensive at times.
Similarly, some challenging kids are 'wired' to be more anxious, and so they react more emotionally.
Given there's no quick fix a better solution is to try to determine what might be driving the behaviour and deal with this, as a preventative measure. For example, a defiant child dislikes being rushed and forced into a corner, so slowing down delivery of commands, using a softer tone, giving the child a little time to decide, and allowing some freedom of choice, might well prevent a defiant, challenging tantrum.
Similarly, an anxious child can be easily upset by a sudden change in routine, or by conflict about them, as well as many other environmental factors. This can deteriorate to challenging outright refusal, tears and an emotional meltdown.
An anxious child will need more reassurance, a little extra support, but also gentle, consistent challenging of irrational anxious thoughts. Preparation for change, as well as affirming successful times when they have coped before can help reduce challenging outbursts.
Very active, excitable and emotional kids love action, stimulation and excitement. These children often need gentle calming routines and slow down activities, before attempting to embark on a new behaviour or activity, such as coming to the dinner table or getting to bed.
Slowing down, a calm bath, quiet reading time, and gently patting the dog, can help settle them before bed. This might prevent challenging refusal to stay in bed, when parents are understandably exhausted by such an active kid.
Overall, the aim is to look for what might be driving this behaviour and to use preventative measures, rather than reacting or disciplining first. It also means good parental control, practising what we preach, rather than displaying challenging behaviour ourselves, such as yelling or reacting aggressively.
Challenging behaviour thrives on conflict, emotion and battles. Therefore, the calmer, more settled and confident we act as parents, the less it buys into the fast battle that a challenging child thrives on.
It is easy to fall into the trap of emotionally reacting or becoming upset, but this serves to feed challenging behaviour of all kinds. It is understandable to over react as a parent when exhausted or fragile, but it is very rarely effective.
Therefore, when facing challenging behaviour, be prepared to slow down interaction, to adopt a softer, calm voice, and even to walk away briefly to collect yourself.
While discussing discipline and management, there is certainly a place for firm boundaries, consistent management and clear consequences.
Challenging behaviour often escalates after parents begin to 'tip-toe' or walk on eggshells. So reassure, soothe or give options first, but also set consistent firm limits and boundaries once challenging behaviour escalates.
The quick fix often looks at a discipline or punishment strategy. However, challenging kids rarely respond well to negative interaction or harsh punishment.
In fact, research shows that negative management and discipline are far less effective motivators than positive regard and positive recognition. Challenging behaviour demands focus, but the more astute parents spend more time on positive regard, positive recognition, and rewards for the moments when challenging kids are well behaved.
Finally, it is easy to look at the negatives of challenging behaviour, but harder to consider the positives. Unfortunately, poorly managed challenging behaviour leads to increased risks of family dysfunction, developing a negative self image and a defiant, disruptive adolescence. However, it is not all bad news.
Children with challenging behaviour often have very positive characteristics. It is difficult, but very worthwhile to consider strengths and positives in challenging behaviour. It is even more challenging to consider enhancing these.
Defiant kids are unreasonable and stubborn, but often very determined, motivated and resilient. They often persevere to achieve better results when others give in. Many elite sportsmen and business leaders have a strong, defiant streak. Many inventors or designers were stubborn souls, who persevered to realise success, when others said quit or give up. The aim is to shape defiance, rather than simply crushing spirit and will.
Many kids with anxiety are highly organised people. They also are generally perceptive and have high attention to detail. Anxious kids often organise groups well and model very good behaviour to others. If anxiety can be managed, as adults, their exacting nature can lead to tight quality control and safe working environments. Many anxious kids are excellent organisers, event planners, scientists, engineers, etc. The aim is not to judge anxiety, nor treat it as simply silly, rather to temper and modify it to become an asset.
Emotional kids who have challenging meltdowns are often more expressive, passionate and dramatic souls. As children, they can be great in drama, dance or debating activities. While we need to help emotional kids to express feelings more acceptably, they often become talented artists, musicians, chefs, actors, fashion designers, etc.
Excitable, active kids can be exhausting and over demanding. However, they are great in getting other children involved and enthusiastic. They help anxious kids take risks. As adults, they are often the dynamic, creative risk takers–the people we admire in advertising, creative solution firms, media positions, entrepreneurs, etc, as well as many other areas.
In summary, challenging behaviour is very trying and exhausting to be managed effectively. However, with good preparation, calm, controlled management, and recognition of strengths, there is great hope that it can be managed and even turned into a strength or positive attribute.
Article written by Ian Wallace. Ian is a regular contributor to KidsLife.