Beyond Behaviors

I have recently become exposed to the work of Mona Delahooke, PhD who has written two books. Both are about dealing with children’s behaviors. (Beyond Behaviors and Brain Body Parenting.) I will be writing a series of blogs about the valuable concepts that she details.

In work with children recovering from early trauma I quickly realized that the typical approach of rewards or punishment was useless.  As you know I have closely followed the work of Dr. Bruce Perry who promotes regulation of behaviors and the recognition of the child’s emotional age when devising a response. Many of my child clients did not have the benefit of  a regulated parent who provided nurture and direction in their younger years.  As a result they acted very much like toddlers throwing tantrums even though they should have been far past that developmental stage.

In Brain Body Parenting Ms Delahooke begins by explaining three mistakes that we traditionally make in handling behaviors.

 We Fail to Look at the Reason for the Behaviors Before We Try to Change Them.

She gives an example of a child with meltdowns….His teachers tried to deal with these incidents with detailed behavior plans designed to reward appropriate behaviors and offer consequences (such as withholding screen time) for maladaptive behaviors. Those efforts failed because they were based on the assumption that the child had control of his actions.  His behaviors stemmed from his inability to stay emotionally regulated. The attempt to get him to change in order to earn a reward just made him more frustrated. We fail to recognize that many behaviors represent the body’s response to stress.

We Use One Size Fits All Approaches

The problem with many programs intended to help children with problem behaviors is that they are based on a general idea about child development. They are not tailored to the direct needs of the child. Delahooke gives an example of a teacher using sensory breaks for a problem behavior but the child felt the teacher was singling her out and blaming her which created greater distress. The child’s behavior was not due to sensory stress. Understanding each child’s individual differences helps to create useful approaches

We Don’t Use a Developmental Roadmap to Understand the Optimal Times for Each Approach

Instead of using a standard plan for all children we need to look at the child’s developmental level. Only when we know where behaviors fit in the child’s larger developmental picture can we help the child to express needs and to communicate distress, thereby preventing behavioral challenges.

Many of our approaches falsely assume that children can self-regulate their emotions and behaviors when in reality, they do not yet have that ability.

There are so many things to consider in looking at problem behaviors.  Keep your mind open to new ideas. Next we will look at how understanding the human nervous system can guide a parent’s response.

If you would like to read more about Deborah please click on the following link: Biography and Training

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