Dad high fives son holding basketball
Dad high fives son holding basketball

Work with your child to address challenging behaviour

If you are raising a child who is oppositional, defiant, disruptive or aggressive, you’ve probably tried every parenting trick in the book.

Need to know

If you are raising a child who is oppositional, defiant, disruptive or aggressive, you’ve probably tried every parenting trick in the book. You’re a master of various behaviour charts, using rewards and consequences to encourage desirable outcomes, and yet you still find yourself reading articles like this. 

If nothing else works, it could be time to change how you view your child’s behaviour and attempt a new way of parenting. An American clinical child psychologist, Dr Ross Greene, developed a new evidence-based model for child behaviour intervention called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS), which is founded on the idea that kids do well if they can. 

The CPS approach requires you to change how you see challenging behaviour, and asks you to view your child’s behaviour as the result of developmental delay in one or more areas. Armed with this information, you can work collaboratively with your child to identify and address the particular problems that get in their way and set in motion challenging behaviour.

Why it’s important

When you are living with constant undesirable behaviour it is difficult to believe anything but that your child is challenging because they’re attention-seeking, manipulative, coercive, limit-testing, or poorly motivated. In fact, this behaviour is often driven by their inability to complete particular tasks or navigate certain situations. Changing your lens and looking at your child in a way that acknowledges that this behaviour occurs because they have not yet acquired the required skills for the situation can make all the difference.

These so-called “lagging skills” could be sensory or motor skills, difficulty with empathy, difficulty maintaining focus or difficulty managing their emotions. By acknowledging that your child’s behaviour is not deliberate – rather, it exists because they are yet to learn an essential skill – you’ll switch on your empathy and find it easier to help them.

Tips and strategies

Use Keywell to record challenging behaviour and use the insights section to find the patterns and triggers for challenging behaviour. As you record these moments, ensure you add the activities associated with the behaviour to help you identify both the skill that is lagging and the unmet expectation placed upon your child.

Here’s a crash course in implementing the CPS model.

Step 1: Change your perspective

Look at your child differently and start with the hypothesis that challenging behaviour is the outcome of your child not having the skills to meet your expectations: “Challenging kids are challenging because they don’t have the skills to not be challenging.” You should approach these unsolved problems together with your child, because without their input you’re less likely to arrive at a mutually satisfying solution.

Step 2: Identify which skills your child lacks and the expectations they have trouble meeting

  1. Use the information you have recorded in Keywell to identify the lagging skills: these could be things like maintaining focus, managing emotional response to frustration, handling unpredictability or a change in ideas/solutions, accurately interpreting social cues, sensory and motor difficulties etc.
  2. Define the unsolved problems: this requires you to be very specific about the expectations your child is having difficulty meeting. This list might be long so you’ll need to prioritise what you need to work on first. For example:
  • Difficulty reading the assigned material in maths
  • Difficulty unpacking school bag 
  • Difficulty turning off the iPad after iPad time

Step 3: Pick an unsolved problem and start solving it collaboratively

  1. Once you’ve selected the problem you want to tackle, it is time to engage your child to start solving the problem. The key is not to project your views about why the problem exists and to let your child express their ideas. 
  2. Start the conversation by expressing empathy. The aim is to gather information about what is going on. “I’ve noticed that you have been having difficulty unpacking your school bag. What’s up?”
  3. Identify your child’s concerns. Sometimes it’s hard to get a child to talk. A great way to help is to repeat what they tell you, known as reflective listening. For example, if they reply with “I don’t know” you can respond with, “You don’t know why you have difficulty unpacking your bag?” And they might respond, “Yeah, I just want to go and relax on the couch.” Summarise your child’s concerns and ask if there are more.
  4. Define your concerns. Remain empathetic and state your concerns without being accusatory. For example, “I’m concerned that if you don’t unpack your bag when you get home you might forget to do your homework and your lunchbox might get smelly.”
  5. Invite your child to find a solution collaboratively. Whatever you and your child agree on should be realistic and mutually satisfactory for it to work long term. Start with, “I wonder if there’s a way for us to make sure you get to relax when you get home from school and your bag still gets unpacked?” Then give your child the opportunity to think of solutions before you give them your ideas.

To read more about CPS and view videos on how to implement it go to:  https://livesinthebalance.org/walking-tour/

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