Distinguishing typical from atypical behavior can sometimes be difficult for parents. These are the warning signs they need to look for, along with how behavioral therapy can help.
- All children act out sometimes, as this is a normal part of development.
- Sometimes, however, children act out in unusual ways that can be undesirable or dangerous. These include:
- Exhibiting aggression
- Showing no signs of empathy
- Causing self-harm
- Behavioral therapy can help children learn how to regulate their emotions and display more desirable behaviors
If you have children, you know that being a parent isn’t always easy. It’s a full-time job in every sense of the phrase; even when you’re not feeding them or playing with them or even in the same building as them, you’re thinking about them. And for many parents, those thoughts are centered on their development.
Is this normal or is this a problem?
How often do you ask this question – either to yourself or a partner – regarding your child’s behavior? While temper tantrums and getting angry or frustrated are pretty much par for the course with all children, sometimes, certain behaviors might mean that there’s a larger issue. This guide goes over the warning signs of undesirable behavior and behavioral therapy can help.
Factors to consider
It’s not uncommon for parents to immediately think something is wrong when their child displays undesirable behavior. There are a few factors you should first consider, however, before jumping to conclusions.
Sure, a two-year-old can be “terrible,” but any parent will tell you that that “terrible” moniker often doesn’t stop being true just because the child turned three. Push-back from children regarding food, TV time, and dozens of other things is customary at young ages.
- Level of development
Many parents expect too much too soon from children. The truth is that children can develop at different paces. Just because your child hasn’t yet hit milestones that they were “supposed” to have reached doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an issue.
- Family dynamics
If your child has had a sudden behavior change, it could be related to what’s going on at home. If you moved to a new home, for example, this may be the issue. Or perhaps you had a family member pass away recently. It takes some children more time to adjust to big changes than others.
- Warning signs to be aware of
While the actions above are generally very normal, others could indicate something more problematic. These include behaviors that:
- Frequently cause disruptions in school
- Hurt their social life, i.e., they have trouble making or keeping friends
- Aren’t appropriate for their age. A 12-year-old, for example, shouldn’t be throwing temper tantrums like a 2-year-old.
Major red flags to not ignore
When thinking about your child and how they behave, these are the warning signs that indicate help is definitely needed.
- Refusal to change – They won’t change their behavior no matter the consequences
- Aggression – They constantly break things, hurt others, or make threats
- No remorse or empathy – They don’t seem to care about other people and their feelings
- Self-injury – They continually hurt themselves, such as by banging their head on a wall
- Animal cruelty – They try to hurt your pets or other animals
- How behavioral therapy can help
Children exhibiting challenging or dangerous behavior can benefit from behavioral therapy. This type of treatment is focused on helping them understand their thoughts and feelings and the impact these have on their behavior. It also helps guide them into making better choices.
The crux of behavioral therapy is to turn the undesirable into the desirable. The first step is to figure out the triggers that cause the unwanted behavior and why they are eliciting these actions. Then, children need to be able to recognize that the thoughts they have about these things are not accurate. Finally, these thoughts need to be shaped to be more positive. Behavioral therapy is predicated on four main principles:
- Reinforcement of good behavior with praise and/or some sort of reward
- Discouraging unwanted behavior by ignoring it so a child doesn’t get negative attention
- Taking away a privilege for egregious behavior that can’t be ignored
- Removing triggers that cause unwanted behavior
Behavioral therapy helps children become less impulsive and defiant, have fewer tantrums, and get better control over self-defeating thoughts. It can also give them more self-control and an improved self-image, and enhance their problem-solving ability and coping mechanisms. It can be especially beneficial for children with:
Behavior therapy techniques
Several behavioral therapy techniques can help a child. These include:
- Toys and games
With the use of dolls, puppets, crafts, or role-playing, children can address issues and figure out the best solutions. Best of all, this is a good way to keep them interested and engaged.
With modeling, a therapist acts out an example of the behavior that should be exhibited and then asks the child to follow this or demonstrate other examples.
This involves exposing the child to the things or situations that bring on the unwanted behavior in hopes of figuring out why they are triggers.
With restructuring, a child learns how to identify when they’re having a negative thought so that they can replace it with a more positive one.
Behavioral therapy can be conducted one-on-one with just a child and the therapist, with parents and their child, or even with the whole family, including siblings. A therapist may also recommend group sessions that involve other children having similar issues.
If you believe that your child may need behavioral therapy, get in touch with Lumiere Children’s Therapy. Tell us about your concerns and we can help you figure out the best course of action for you and your child.