When a child, or for that matter, an adult, devises an unhealthy or negative behavior and utilizes it to get what they think they want or gain control, what do we do? What happens afterward? What is the end result?
First we have to know what it is that the child really wants. If we give what they claim they want to them, is it helping them to function better now AND later? For example, if a child cries because someone else gets the lollipop that he or she wants, if we give the lollipop to her, it is true that the crying may stop. Is that what we want? What happens the next time? She repeats the behavior. If this method has worked for her before and we don’t give it to her, what does she do? She cries louder and carries on more. If this has been a foolproof method for her, guess what? If you are the one who doesn’t give her the lollipop, she will have to escalate that behavior to full throttle should this go on. The question is, do you want the crying to stop immediately, or do you want to prevent the behavior from recurring? We all will answer the correct answer; however, what do we actually do? Are you able to not get that desired behavior that day? Maybe not. However, over time, with repeated “this method is not going to work,” “protocol,” the child will begin to deal or ask for what she needs. It is the professional’s job, in my opinion, to see it through. ignore the tantrum (safely), deny unwanted choices, and then help the child to make better ones.
One method of doing this is to make the group work irresistible. When the child ceases his or her tantrums and participates, many times I say nothing. I allow the child to enjoy the healthy process. Then, at the end, I tell the child how glad I was that he or she decided to join us. I never try to coerce the child to join, remind the child of how much they are missing, or remind the child that it is going to be over soon. Believe me, children know this. Who are these comments really helping?
In my opinion, when a child is repeating a behavior for long periods of time and staff or parents are doing all that they can to avoid the situations where the child might tantrum, this is only prolonging the inevitable. The negative behavior will never go away this way. As the adult in charge, it is time to set the limit, time to help the child change their method. Go through the process, do not avoid it.
Even more important than eliminating the behavior, this helps to build trust and security in the child. This is what children need to continue to make healthy choices when the adults are not there. Children are not equipped to be in charge. it is up to the healthily functioning adults to set the limit, see it through, and oversee that behavior leads in a positive direction, even if that means dealing with the fallout of unhealthy functioning. When a child knows that adults will handle what the child is not equipped to, this builds a safe world for a child to be a child and builds steps towards healthy behavior and independent functioning.
Antoinette Morrison MT-BC