Topic: Challenging Behaviors

Can Rewards and Consequences Make Kids’ Behavior Challenges Worse?

“Martina,” a 7-year-old in a special-needs classroom, wanted to let her teacher know that she was feeling anxious,  so she tried to connect with her, repeatedly grabbing at her arm and shirt. The teacher had been trained to ignore “negative” behaviors, so the more Martina grabbed, the less attention she gave her. Her strategy was […]

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Challenging Behaviors: Why We Shouldn’t Expect Kids to Self-Regulate Too Soon

Five-year-old Nathan was excited about a family outing to the zoo, but his mother worried he would not be able to control his behavior. So she explained her carefully devised plan. She had ten gummy bear candies with her. If Nathan behaved well, she would give him all ten at the end of the visit. […]

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It’s Time to Do Away with Seclusion and Isolation Rooms and Replace them with Compassion

Recently, a 13-year-old autistic student died after staff members at his Northern California school physically restrained him for an extended period. And the parents of a non-speaking, autistic 12-year-old  have sued his school for placing him in a seclusion room after a behavioral outburst. Teachers forced the child to strip naked before they placed him in a […]

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He’s Having a Meltdown! Four Possible Triggers—and How to React

In my last post, I suggested that we should appreciate meltdowns for what they are: a child’s way of signaling that he needs something from the adults around him—or from his environment.  When a child experiences a meltdown or tantrum or acts aggressively, he is communicating that he has exceeded his ability to intentionally control his […]

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The Developmental Iceberg: Looking Below the Surface of Challenging Behaviors

Behavioral challenges are the “tip” of the iceberg, and the answers to helping children are often found below the surface of behaviors. Take Ben, for example, who was a puzzle to his parents and teachers alike. In kindergarten, he struggled to stay in his seat, and his teachers constantly reprimanded him for not complying with […]

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When Children Act Out: “Seeking Negative Attention” or Needing to be Seen?

Decades ago, when I was in graduate school studying child psychology, I was taught that children often do things to get “negative attention.” At my clinical training sites, it was common to hear things such as, “Oh, Johnny is creating drama to seek negative attention” and “The best strategy is to ignore him.” When I […]

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How We Help Children When We Practice Mindful Acceptance

Recently I experienced a difficult moment with a young client—and gained some insight in the process. In the midst of a session in my office, something triggered the 8-year-old boy into a “red zone” and he suddenly burst out yelling and screaming. His mother and I had seen this happen before, and we typically reacted […]

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When Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) Underlie Problem Behaviors

Four-year-old Wyatt was struggling in preschool, suddenly defying directions, and demanding more attention than usual. Nap time became a particular challenge. He would slither on the floor, trying to avoid his cot, in the process disturbing others trying to sleep. Frustrated, his teachers would ask him to stop bothering others, giving him few minutes to […]

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What We Can Learn from a Seven-Year-Old’s Arrest

A Florida elementary school made national headlines after video emerged of a police officer hauling off a seven-year-old boy in handcuffs. According to reports, a teacher had scolded the child for playing with his food in the cafeteria and the boy reacted by lashing out at the teacher, repeatedly striking and kicking her. By the […]

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