5 Tools for Addressing Challenging Behaviors

My two year old is usually a really good kid, ESPECIALLY for being two. But take away our home environment, especially all his toys, add loved ones he doesn’t get to see regularly, mix in some *new* toys that he is expected to share with twin babies, sprinkle it with holiday excitement, and you’ve got a recipe for meltdowns, regression, and basically a tiny jerk. (Am I a bad mom for saying that?)

I know I’m not alone in wondering “WTF?!” when my kids act out, but neither my WTF reaction nor the fact that other parents can empathize really helps me deal with the challenging behavior. But! Guess what! I’ve got some tried and true tools for dealing with just this thing!

Seriously, I realized midway through writing this, that it’s about time I delve into my behavioral interventions background. As a teacher, instructional coach, and consultant, addressing challenging behaviors was sort of my thing. If you want to know a bit more about this, check out “Who is Maestra Momma?”.

For now, let’s talk about the 5 things I keep in my tool belt for addressing challenging behaviors, 5 tools that have worked wonders for me as a teacher and as a momma, not the only tools, but definitely the ones I need and use the MOST. In order to really do justice to the complexity of addressing challenging behavior, I should dedicate an entire post to explore the nuances of each of these tools at length, but here’s the short of it for now.

Load Up Your Toolbelt

1. Patience. Sometimes taking deep yoga breaths helps me find my patience if I feel it slipping away. Other tricks: counting to 5 before reacting, stepping away for a second, it’s even ok to admit to a child that “I am so upset right now, that I need a second to calm down.” Different strokes for different folks, but if we want our children or students to learn patience and how to deal with frustration, we have to model it first.

2. Perspective and empathy. Sometimes we just need to put ourselves in their shoes. As flustered as we are with managing a child’s challenging behavior, imagine what they are feeling and how frustrating it is to be a little person with big feelings. Those terrible tantrums are their way of telling us they need our help, or space, or food, or a nap.

3. Be proactive. A huge part of being proactive is being present and providing adequate supervision. Nip things in the bud. I’m not saying to create a world in which children won’t encounter conflict, but kids aren’t born knowing how to deal with conflict or big feelings, and I know I’m better at helping my kids through these if I kinda’ see them coming.

Obviously you won’t see everything coming, so when your child is suddenly met with a problem that could cause him to morph into a tiny jerk, you use your other tools, like…

4. EMPOWER children so that they LEARN and USE more adaptive behaviors. Start with modeling more adaptive or appropriate behaviors as the adult. Provide your child the language and some strategies to deal with a frustrating situation.

Talk about and practice such strategies OUTSIDE of problem situations, so that when problems pop up, you’ve got those tools ready to use. TRY not to teach them for the first time DURING the problem scenario when your kid’s emotions have hijacked their brain and language. You can and will sometimes have to do just that, but then you’ll wish you hadn’t and you’ll be crying and needing a stiff drink or week’s sleep.

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Sorry, my Jersey teacher friends, I couldn’t help but use that same quote you might have seen 100 times in PD. It makes such a good point.

5. Fake it ’til you make it! This totally got me through some rough moments in teaching and is now my mommy mantra somedays.

When the babies are giving me a hard time, sometimes I’ve just got to fake a smile, sing a little song, be a convincing actor, and after a while I find I’m not really acting anymore. The faked “everything is cupcakes and rainbows” has actually become cupcakes and rainbows: my wonderful reality with three happy kids under three that make me the proudest and happiest person I’ve ever been!

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