Changing how we think about kids

Jessica House, M.A., R.P., Manager, Crossroads Children's Centre

Children with challenging behaviour are misunderstood.

There are plenty of children who struggle with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.  Each one of us can think of our own experiences with a child who has challenging behaviour.  And although each of these children are unique, we tend to explain their behaviour in the same, unfortunate way... 

"That child is purposefully trying to make our lives more difficult."

"That child is intentionally trying to get something he/she wants, or is trying to get out of doing something he/she doesn't want"

Or, in other words, "children do well if they want to".

We know without a doubt that this is not true.  In fact, children with challenging behaviour want to do well just as much if not more than children who do well.  Unfortunately, these children are terribly misunderstood.  We need to change the way we think about them.  We need to start saying to ourselves, "Children do well if they can".

What does this mean exactly?  This suggests that every child wants to do well, and would do well if they could do well.  If they aren't doing well, something is getting in their way, and it is up to us adults to figure out what it is so we can help.

Redefining challenging behaviour.

So, if we know that all children want to do well, and yet still so many children have difficult behaviour, why might this be?

Children lack the skill (not the will) to do well.

What skills are these children lacking?  The thinking skills required to manage so many of the situations and expectations placed on them.  Skills such as flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving.  

So why is this so important?

The power is in how you think about it.

The way you think influences the way you feel and behave. 

Thoughts → Feelings → Actions

 If you think a child is misbehaving because they don't want to do something (i.e., put on shoes to go outside), you might feel frustrated or impatient with the child.  Logically then, you will try to make the child want to do that particular task.  You may do this by offering a reward to "sweeten the deal" or by threatening a punishment.  For example, "I'll give you a treat if you put your shoes on" or "If you don't put your shoes on, I'll take your game away".

But, if you think that a child's behaviour is the result of a lack of skill to do well (i.e., can't put on the shoes because doesn't know the steps to tie the laces), you'll feel more empathic, and will intervene in a way that supports the child in learning the skills needed to manage the situation (i.e., teach the steps to tie the laces or help them with memory recall when it is time to tie the laces). 

By rethinking challenging children and understanding that their behaviour is more about lack of skill than lack of will, great things can happen.  We will naturally feel less frustrated and more empathic towards these children, leading us to more compassionate interventions.  The power is in how you think about it!  

To learn more about Ottawa Collaborative Problem Solving, visit the Crossroads Children's Centre website.

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