Topic: Challenging Behaviors

Top-Down and Bottom-Up Behaviors: Understanding the Critical Difference

Did you know that there are (at least) 2 different kinds of behaviors? Most people don’t. I didn’t, even after years of college, training, and earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Most graduate programs in mental health, education, social work, and medicine don’t yet consider this dichotomy important enough to teach or train about. But […]

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Childhood Trauma: Understanding Behavioral Challenges as Survival Instincts

This is a blog post I never wanted to write. In light of the tidal wave of neuroscience research, I had hoped that by now the fields of education, mental health and juvenile justice would change the way they view and support children and teens exposed to trauma. That hasn’t happened yet. And while I’m […]

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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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