Why Some Kids Behave BadThe child had some aggression issues. As you can imagine this played out a little different with the OT.
One of our bald Occupational Therapists (see the Staff page for who that might be) once treated a child who was pretty much non-verbal.
The child had some aggression issues. When the child became frustrated he would lean over and pull your hair. As you can imagine this played out a little different with the bald OT.
The OT would notice when the child became frustrated and would lean his head toward the child so he could attempt to pull his hair. The OT then ignored the behavior completely and redirected the child back to the task at hand.
After the child figured out that the desired effect of the hair pulling was not being achieved he went to another aggressive behavior. The OT had a plan. More on that in a minute…
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Does your child demonstrate aggressive behaviors when he or she is frustrated?
Examples of this may include:
Screaming when upset.
Although it is typical for young children to sometimes throw tantrums, aggressive behaviors could also be a sign of a speech and/or language delay.
By age two, children should have an expressive vocabulary of at least 50 words and they should be beginning to combine words into short, two-word phrases (ex. Want juice).
Between ages two and three, children should be using words for a variety of functions:
Answering simple questions
Producing 2-3 word phrases
Learning at least two new words per week
And they should be using words more than gestures to communicate.
More clues that bad behavior may be a communication problem:
If your child is not using words consistently.
Is difficult to understand when he or she does attempt to use words/phrases
Is not able to efficiently express his or her wants/needs.
If your child is using gestures more than words to communicate, he or she may have an expressive language delay (see article Does My child Need Speech Therapy?).
If your child is attempting to use words/phrases to communicate but is difficult to understand, he or she may have an articulation delay.
If you think that your child may have a language or articulation delay, call or text Therapy 4 Kids at 501-514-3722 with any questions that you may have or click on one of the buttons at the bottom of this page to schedule an evaluation with a speech-language.
If your child is exhibiting aggressive behaviors, here are two important things to remember:
Aggressive behaviors AREa form of communication
Aggressive behaviors CANbe reduced and appropriate behaviors can be taught using behavior modification
Aggressive behaviors ARE a form of communication. If children are not able to verbally communicate their wants/needs, they will find other ways to communicate.
Unfortunately, this may result in aggressive behaviors including hitting, kicking, biting, throwing and screaming. Children do what works for them.
Therefore, you may unknowingly be rewarding or encouraging inappropriate behaviors by positively responding to them.
If a child wants a drink and instead of saying “drink, please” he throws his cup at you and you give him a drink, you are teaching your child that throwing his cup is an appropriate way to ask for a drink.
Another example, if your child wants a certain toy (let’s say a ball) and instead of saying “ball, please” he hits, kicks and screams, if you give him the ball, you are teaching your child that throwing a tantrum is an appropriate way to request.
Therefore, you are reinforcing the behavior. Even if you say “no” at first but after the child screams for five minutes then you eventually give in and give the child the ball, you are still rewarding the behavior.
You are just teaching them that they have to scream longer to get what they want. Even if a child has difficulty verbally expressing what they want/need, we can teach them appropriate ways to express themselves through behavior modification.
Behavior modification is replacing undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones through positive or negative reinforcement.
What is the difference between positive and negative reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement encourages certain behaviors through a system of rewards (ex. earning a treat for cleaning your room) and negative reinforcement decreases inappropriate behaviors through a system of removal (ex. removing a toy after a child throws it; placing a child in “time out”).
So, what should you do if your child is exhibiting aggressive behaviors?
Recognizing that ALL behaviors are a type of communication is the first step. Ask yourself, “what is my child trying to tell me?”
Once you figure out what your child is trying to tell you, you can teach them a more appropriate way to communicate using behavior modification.
Since aggressive behaviors could also be a sign of a speech and/or language delay, you should consult your pediatrician and/or contact Therapy 4 Kids to schedule a speech-language evaluation for your child.
In the mean time, use behavior modification techniques, including positive and negative reinforcement, to replace inappropriate behaviors with more appropriate ones.
Review the scenario below for tips/techniques that may work for your child.
Suzie wants a snack. She leads you into the kitchen and points to the cookies. When you do not immediately give Suzie a cookie, she begins grunting and pushing you towards the cookie jar. If you still do not respond, Suzie begins screaming and hitting you while pushing you towards the cookie jar.
If you give her a cookie, you have just reinforced the inappropriate behaviors of screaming and hitting. Basically, you have just taught Suzie that screaming and hitting is an appropriate way to request a cookie.
So, what should you do?
When Suzie leads you into the kitchen and points to the cookies, ask her “Suzie, do you want a cookie?” or “Suzie, what do you want?” An acceptable response would be to answer “yes” or “cookie” or “I want a cookie.”
Responses depend on your child’s verbal ability. If Suzie does not respond to the question or she begins grunting and pushing you towards the cookies, repeat the question.
If your child has limited verbal skills you can use imitation to get any type of appropriate response. If they are only able to say “cook” for “cookie” reward that attempt.
If your child is nonverbal, you can use a picture exchange to request
Have Suzie give you a picture of a cookie to let you know what she wants or even simple sign language.
If Suzie attempts an appropriate response, then the positive reinforcement would be that she gets a cookie. If she continues using inappropriate behaviors such as screaming or hitting,
The most important thing to remember is
DO NOT GIVE IN!
The negative reinforcement would be that Suzie does not get the cookie. There may also be an additional negative reinforcement such as “time out” if Suzie continues with inappropriate behaviors.
“Time out” is typically appropriate for children over age two. The recommendation is one minute per year (ex. a two year old can be expected to sit in “time out” for up to two minutes, a three year old for three minutes, ect…).
Remember the child who tried pulling the bald OT’s hair?
The behavior that the child went to next was pinching. What did the OT do? Ignored it. The child was looking for a reaction. They were wanting the OT to leave them alone.
A long sleeve shirt goes a long way to help ignore a pinching child. It didn’t take the child long to figure out that their aggression was not having the typical effect.
They stopped trying to pull the hairless mans hair and stopped trying to pinch. They began to listen and make progress.
Reward the good and ignore the bad is a good rule of thumb. If the bad gets too bad, physically remove the child from the location and explain why they are in trouble.
The next thing you MUST do is to explain to them what appropriate behavior looks like. You cannot simply tell them “don’t hit.” You need to tell them what is acceptable.
You can tell them that we ask or use our words instead of hitting. When they do perform the appropriate behavior you need to lay on the praise to a much greater degree than you would ever punish a child.
Everyone is looking for affirmation and an “Attaboy.” Sing their praises when they do good and they will aim to please you.