How to manage challenging behaviors

What do you do when your child hits, throws tantrums or refuses to share? Where should you turn for a child dealing with anxiety or depression?

A panel of four experts — JoAnne Loper from Tuesday’s Child, Gene Lieber from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Kylie Kosmacek from Chicago Public Schools and  Clinical Psychologist Dr. Rich Arend — convened at this year’s Neighborhood Parents Network Developmental Differences Fair to share strategies for dealing with challenging behaviors.

Here is their advice:

What should I do when my child misbehaves?

Focus on positive parenting, not punishment. Show the child how to replace inappropriate behavior with an appropriate alternative.

For example, if the child is fighting over a toy, show her how to share. Instead of yelling, “stop!” validate her feelings. Say, “I see you want that toy. Ask for a turn.” Facilitate a back and forth reciprocal process where using words pays off. She will learn she gets it back in two minutes and will make asking for a turn part of her behavior repertiore.

How do I redirect a child with speech delays from hitting?

Teach him safe, powerful ways to get his intense feeling out. He can slap and squeeze his hands, grunt or stomp his feet. Then help him label the emotion, “You’re mad.”

Closely observe what is causing the anger. Determine the goal of the child’s behavior and facilitate a positive way for the child to get what he is looking for.

What should I do when my child is being physically aggressive?

It’s best to intervene before the child gets to that point. Once she’s gone over the cliff, it’s hard to pull her back. Often problems are predictable– you can see the situation escalating. Try to get ahead of difficult times, like transitions or fights with siblings.

However, if the child has already started to tantrum, take her to her room or a safe place. Help her calm down with sensory strategies, such as punching bags for older kids or ripping paper.

After the storm, help her find ways to express her needs and wants. Giving her a “do over,” or chance to repair what she messed up, also repairs her self-esteem.

What should I do when my child has learned a dangerous behavior in his classroom?

Talk to the teacher about ramping up reinforcement for children meeting expectations. Help offset focus on the ones displaying inappropriate behavior.

What support is available over the summer?

Ask if the extended school year is an option for your child. The decision is typically made in the spring. If your child isn’t eligible for ESY, Loper recommends Easter Seals summer camps for children with autism.

Recommended resources

Chicago Public Schools Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services: Provides specially designed instructional supports and services

“How Does My Engine Run?” program for self-regulation: Teaches self-regulation awareness

Lives in the Balance: Supports behaviorally challenging kids and their caregivers

Available services

Tuesday’s Child early childhood behavioral intervention: Parent and child training for challenging kids, ages 6 and younger. Learn effective discipline, reasonable expectations, and how to create a safe and engaging environment

Lurie Children’s outpatient treatment groups: Groups for children of similar age and cognitive functioning to address related issues. Work through challenges in a helpful group setting

Lurie Children’s partial hospitalization program: Intensive, five-day treatment program for children ages 4-14. Increase mastery of skills through intense repetition

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