We have been talking about challenging behavior in young children. In the past two weeks we have covered biting and bedtime challenges. With both of those issues we have seen that what we do to shape children’s good behavior during infancy goes a long way to preventing challenging behavior in the toddler and preschool years. Another way of saying this is that by being pro-active one can avoid having to be re-active in the future.
I’d like to explore those two concepts in today’s column. Pro-active means all the things we do to prevent or further escalate any challenging behavior. Some of the pro-active responses were highlighted in the difference in bedtime routines for Sara and Sandy. Sara’s parents, though concerned with her comfort, were pro-active in meeting her needs and then expecting her to calm herself to sleep. Sandy’s parents, let their concern for Sandy’s comfort and well-being strongly influence their response to her crying. By picking her up and holding her as she fell asleep every night, they were teaching her that she could not do this on her own. Sandy’s parents set up a routine in which their behavior was continually reactive to Sandy’s cries.
Once a challenging behavior is part of a child’s pattern, we still can work with our own responses to de-escalate the seriousness of the behavior, maybe not at the moment, but over time. These responses are our pro-active responses where we anticipate how the child’s behavior is deteriorating and understand what are our best long-range goals for helping the child. Although we may have the impulse to react when the behavior occurs, we consciously choose a proactive stance.
However, parents and teachers often fall back to their reactive responses -- and with good reason. Reactive responses cause an immediate change in the child’s behavior. We think we have solved the problem. The crying stops when we pick Sandy up from her bed. Josh stops hitting a playmate when we yell (or worse—pull him away and spank him). Unfortunately, by reacting, the challenging behavior will escalate and come back to ‘bite’ us again and again.
Thank-you for sharing the website, http://twinkletime-bringingupbaby.blogspot.com/ with your friends who have small children. Next week we will explore some pro-active responses to Josh’s hitting.