When children refuse to clean up their toys or eat their vegetables, most parents know how to best handle the situation. But what if a child’s reaction to appropriate consequences is extreme, escalating to physical aggression and even property damage and making the home unsafe?
This type of conduct could be the sign of emotional/behavioral issues that need to be addressed for the best interest of the child, parents and other members of the family. When children act out in these ways, it can be very disconcerting for everyone involved. Parents often take on blame and can feel too ashamed to ask for help. But as the program director of a school for K-12 students with special needs, let me assure parents that resources are available and this is not something they have to navigate on their own.
There are professionals dedicated to helping families overcome these challenges. They can assist parents with gaining access to the tools and other resources needed to manage these issues at home and school, ensuring the child develops the skills to reach his or her full potential. It is very possible that the root cause of an emotional/behavioral issue is a learning difference or emotional disturbance that may need to be treated medically or by using behavior protocols, or both.
The first step is to schedule an appointment with the child’s physician. Parents should be open to discussing the behavior. If the doctor concludes it is not a medical concern, he or she may refer parents to a counselor or counseling center. It can be beneficial to follow that advice, do additional research on individual counselors and schedule an appointment with one who might be a good fit for the child.
When you notice something is off with your child’s behavior, I recommend parents contact their child’s school. Teachers might be seeing the same actions in the classroom and most likely have strategies for handling such behavior that might also work at home.
The most important element to helping a child improve is consistency – of expectations, the use of behavior modification techniques and any medications. If a child knows what to expect, he or she can trust that environment and feel more relaxed and less prone to extreme reactions to stressors. Since children spend so many of their waking hours at school, replicating what is working in that environment at home can often yield the best results.
Parents and teachers can measure improvement by tracking tangible data points regarding how often the behavior occurs and how long it lasts. For example, if a child’s outbursts used to happen five times a week and last two hours each time but now they are twice a week and 20 minutes each, that is a notable difference. These records can indicate whether a program is working for a child. If parents and teachers are not seeing progress, protocols may need to be changed.
Part of the Catapult Learning family of schools, our school can be a great resource for parents and children experiencing emotional/behavioral issues at home. We believe a holistic approach that combines education and homelife yields the best results. Our teachers and staff, including counselors, psychologists and occupational therapists, do whatever it takes to ensure families have all the tools they need to be successful. We often work with outside professionals to provide children with a network of support that is going to help them live their best life.
Making sure individuals guiding the child also have access to resources is a top priority. We build in professional development days to give our teachers opportunities to keep up with the leading edge of research and what they can do for our students. We also offer workshops for all parents in the community – not just High Road parents – to learn about topics that will help them cope with their children’s emotional/behavior issues. We focus on de-escalation and creating calmness at home regardless of what is happening.
Every child deserves the best chance to succeed. Recognizing the signs, accessing the right help and building a network of caring professionals is crucial. With a well-rounded approach, various entities work together and consistently move toward what is working for the child. Only then will parents see true results and the creation of a better future for their children and families.
The above article was written by Aaron O’Neal, program director