Managing Behavioral Issues

“Let’s understand a person’s background, before we condemn their behavior.”

This quote by Eric M. Watterson easily points at a world that is extremely judgmental.

All children can be naughty, defiant, and impulsive from time to time, which is perfectly normal. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviors that are outside the norm for their age, due to the fact that they have special needs.

“Disability” can include behavioral and other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, aggression, peer problems, emotional symptoms, phobias, or conduct disorder, to the extent that it interferes with the child’s ability to thrive. For many children with disabilities, tantrums are a sign of frustration with their world. Maybe because they can’t communicate the way they want to or process all the information directed at them by the so-called normal world.

Anoushka has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and stubbornness & tantrums are natural traits of this diagnosis. It has been a challenging task dealing with behavioural issues on numerous occasions and at such times, I recall the words of Sr. Gaitonde, who headed SPJ Sadhana School, an institution for people of determination, in Mumbai. I quote her, “There will be times when you will be embarrassed as your child lies on the floor in public places and throws a tantrum, but DON’T give in. Stand your ground. Don’t bother about what the people around think of you, this is the ONLY way to modify the behavior of your child.” And I have been in such situations many times and partially abided to her advice and have been successful.

So there is no RIGHT way to handle a situation. As a parent all of us need to develop our own strategies and modify them as per the situation and the specific needs of our children.

Having said that, there are some common and practically viable changes one can make at home, to help lessen the chaos and empower your child.

  • Structure: Create a daily schedule for your child, including school, meals, and bedtime. If they know what is coming next, they’ll be less anxious and thereby less likely to throw a tantrum when changing from one activity to another. Keeping the child engaged surely helps.
  • Recognition and rewards: A child with special needs is often despised or ridiculed and they might often hear what went wrong. Acknowledging & rewarding good behavior gives better results than punishing unwanted behavior; punishment only teaches your child that a tantrum gets attention. Be creative about celebrating successes and small victories. Remember, no success or victory is small.
  • Redirection: You can point your child’s behavior in a new direction. For example, if they are screaming, you can encourage them to do a task or focus on something else. This acts like creating a ripple.
  • Siblings: They play a defining role in your child’s life, so it’s important that siblings know why their brother or sister needs a different approach to daily tasks. Give them some time together & trust me, it works wonders.

The road to improving behaviors starts with the belief that your child, no matter what his/her behavior looks like now, can change with the right support and knowledge. An important first step for parents of children with disabilities is to understand why behavioral issues are occurring in the first place. Given the importance of the family and home environment for young children’s behavioral development, supportive and enriching experiences in the home can help mitigate the growth of behavior problems for young disabled children.

To change undesirable behaviors we see in the world, we must change the thinking that leads to those behaviors.”- Donald L. Hicks

Nisha Tandon

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