Four Steps to Manage Preschooler's Behaviour

Four Steps to Manage Preschooler's Behaviour

Master Key: All Behavior is Communication

Every parent knows the early challenges of interpreting a baby’s cries. An insightful caretaker becomes proud of the ability to discern one cry from another, declaring: Oh, he needs to be changed. She’s hungry again. Parents become experts at interpreting cries. Children become experts at crying and fussing to get what they need to grow and thrive.

Just as crying is one of the first ways that children tell us what they need, childhood behaviors from tantrums to demands for independence, are also forms of communication. The master key to understanding your child’s behavior is to understand that his or her behavior is communication.

Communication is a lifelong adventure

Communication is a lifelong adventure and an ongoing learning curve. For just when parents become experts at their child’s communicative behaviors, children exhibit new behaviors. The toddler years define a child’s growing independence. The preschooler learns about their environment by interacting with it, testing it. Parents must continue to be interpreters, to understand the purposes of children’s behaviors, and to teach appropriate ways to communicate and interact. The early years benefit greatly from conversations, asking and answering questions, calmly nurturing children to strengthen vocabulary, concepts and expectations.

Functions of Behavior

Behaviorists have developed a simple code for understanding the significance or “functions” of behavior. These functions can be categorized into 4 areas, easily remembered with this mnemonic: SEAT.

Remember 4 key areas : SEAT

Key 1: Sensory

A behavior occurs because the child has a sensory need. They are hungry, uncomfortable, or sleepy.

Key 2: Escape

A behavior occurs because the child wants to avoid something. They don’t want to take a bath, do homework, or eat their vegetables.

Key 3: Attention

A behavior occurs because the child wants attention. They show you their drawing, beg for another story, or yell when they don’t feel heard.

Key 4: Tangible

Some Non-Examples (Things Not to Do): If your child is avoiding something, don’t force them to do it without considering why they want to avoid it. If your child needs your attention, don’t refuse to give attention until they just behave. If your child is not following instructions because they want to do something by themselves, don’t take over and do it for them.

Here is where things get really tricky! Children often have to do things they don’t want to do. That is just life. They may have to go to school when they miss their parents, or eat something healthy that they don’t particularly like. Children are little masters of behavior, and they will use all kinds of behaviors to get what they want, or avoid things they don’t like. The trick is to meet their concerns with understanding and teach them more appropriate ways to get their needs met.

For Example: If your child doesn’t want to go to school because they miss you (attention), make sure you meet their needs by spending some special time with them before or after school. Promise you will have special time together and keep your promise. If your child won’t eat something healthy (sensory), praise them for trying a little of it. Teach them about healthy food and how important it is to be healthy. Try to make it fun or delicious. If your child wants a particular toy and has a temper tantrum in the store, prepare them before you go to the store by clearly stating that this is not a shop for toys errand. Let them tell you about the toys they like, and make plans together, to earn a toy with good behavior.

When you teach your children they can communicate their concerns to you, and that you will respond with care for their concerns, they are more likely to use words to tell you what is going on in their lives. When you help children learn how to appropriately get their needs met, and then meet their needs, they will learn that these methods work much better.

A behavior occurs because the child wants something tangible. They tantrum for a toy at the store, ask for a sweet treat, or cry for a hug.

Applying Knowledge of the Four Functions of Behavior

All parents want to raise well-behaved children who follow instructions and learn safe and appropriate ways to interact with others. Here are some simple steps to help you teach your children how to appropriately communicate their needs.

Step 1: Understand the Function of a Behavior

When your child exhibits a behavior such as crying excessively, refusing to follow instructions, or avoiding situations, you need to guess why they are behaving in this way.

Some Examples: If a child is crying excessively, they might want attention, be afraid (sensory), or not know how to communicate something that is very important to them. If they are refusing to follow instructions, they may be manipulating to get something they want (tangible). They may not know how to do something (attention or sensory). They may want to escape from something uncomfortable or difficult.

Step 2: Communicate

Once you think you understand why your child is behaving a certain way, it is important to communicate your understanding.

Some Examples: If your child is crying, say: “I think you are crying because you want me to stay with you (attention). You can tell me that you want me to stay using your words. Why don’t you try that?” If your child is refusing to follow instructions, say: “I think you don’t want to do this because it is difficult (sensory). Maybe I can help you do it. Please ask me to help you.” If your child is avoiding something, say: “I know you don’t really want to go to school because you will miss me (escape). You can tell me that you will miss me.”

Step 3: Provide Supplemental Behavior

In the above examples, the parent is teaching the child better ways to communicate. The parent shows concern for the child and their behavior. The parent becomes teacher, assisting the child to say something they may not know how to say, or that they may fear to say. The parent also gives the child a more appropriate example of how to communicate needs.

The key to providing supplemental behavior — and this is where parents often go wrong — is to provide a behavior that supports the function or purpose of the child’s behavior.

Some Non-Examples (Things Not to Do): If your child is avoiding something, don’t force them to do it without considering why they want to avoid it. If your child needs your attention, don’t refuse to give attention until they just behave. If your child is not following instructions because they want to do something by themselves, don’t take over and do it for them.

Here is where things get really tricky! Children often have to do things they don’t want to do. That is just life. They may have to go to school when they miss their parents, or eat something healthy that they don’t particularly like. Children are little masters of behavior, and they will use all kinds of behaviors to get what they want, or avoid things they don’t like. The trick is to meet their concerns with understanding and teach them more appropriate ways to get their needs met.

For Example: If your child doesn’t want to go to school because they miss you (attention), make sure you meet their needs by spending some special time with them before or after school. Promise you will have special time together and keep your promise. If your child won’t eat something healthy (sensory), praise them for trying a little of it. Teach them about healthy food and how important it is to be healthy. Try to make it fun or delicious. If your child wants a particular toy and has a temper tantrum in the store, prepare them before you go to the store by clearly stating that this is not a shop for toys errand. Let them tell you about the toys they like, and make plans together, to earn a toy with good behavior.

When you teach your children they can communicate their concerns to you, and that you will respond with care for their concerns, they are more likely to use words to tell you what is going on in their lives. When you help children learn how to appropriately get their needs met, and then meet their needs, they will learn that these methods work much better.

The map is not the territory

Finally, I would like to share one of the 12 NLP presuppositions NLP Presuppositionswith you:

The map is not the territory – to transmit understanding, you have to gain access to the map of the other person!