CHANNELLING CHALLENGING BEHAVIOURS: A SENSORY APPROACH


HELP, my child is a monster in class! I have no control over him and I feel like the other parents in my child’s class are judging his wild behavior and me as a parent. I think I should drop out of the class. What else can I do?

Dropping out of the program is not the answer! The Kindermusik environment provides you with a tremendous opportunity for growth.

First, lose the judgment!
According to Becky Bailey, “The judgments, criticisms, complaints, encouragement, joy and love that we think we are giving to others, are really gifts we give to ourselves.”1 Do you ever feel defensive when another parent or your child’s teacher shares an observation about your child? Maybe it’s you… Judgment creates a defensive environment. Practice reframing what you see to hold NO judgment.

  • Example of judgment: I have no control over my child.
  • Example of no judgment: My child is running.

Think about your child and make a list of the behaviors you are seeing using only the facts, no judgments. This could be behaviors you see at home, in class, anywhere.

Next, empathize.

Empathy happens when you know another person’s feelings and they believe you know.
Who needs empathy? …

  • Your child. S/he may be frustrated, bored, tired, hungry, stressed…..
  • You. You feel exhausted, frustrated, embarrassed….

Acknowledge your own feelings and those of your child. Name their/your feeling: “You are frustrated.” “That hurt!” It is helpful to name the feeling out loud for the child. Ask questions that might clarify: “Are you worried?” “Are you excited?”

Here are some ways to show empathy:

  • Eye-to-Eye Contact: Look into your child’s eyes. Sometimes that’s ALL you need to do. Example: two children collide while putting instruments back in the basket. If a child gets bonked in the head they often think someone should pay for this! But usually if you make eye contact or maybe touch their “owie”, they will instantly recover.
  • Take your child’s Love Language2 into account. Would they respond best to some kind words of endearment, praise, encouragement or guidance? (Words of Affirmation) What about an invitation to sit next to you? (Quality Time) What if you gave them a reward, such as a sticker or a stamp, for the 30 seconds during the class when they were attentive and engaged? (Gifts) What if you asked them to help you with something? (Acts of Service) What about a hug and an extra-long cuddle when they feel slighted by another child? (Physical Touch)

Understand child development.
The following diagram shows the pattern and intensity of movement of children at different developmental stages around a typical nursery school classroom.
Does that help you understand why your little one likes to run so much? There is usually a really good reason the child is behaving the way they are. Always take into account the emotional and physical needs of the child.

Always assume the best in your child … even if you are sure they were throwing the rhythm sticks in class you can still treat it as an innocent situation of an action scheme for discovery. “These are your fingers and they are for holding on tight!” This allows them the freedom to change their mind without losing autonomy.

Again, consider their Love Language to get the best response. In order to respect a child’s Love Language and discipline (train) with love, do not select their Love Language as a method of discipline. For instance, if you use condemning words with a child whose Love Language is Words of Affirmation, your words will communicate not only that you are displeased with the behavior, but also that you do not love the child. If their Love Language is Quality Time, do not use isolation as a form of punishment. If it’s Physical Touch, don’t withhold hugs or respond in a physically negative way. Imagine what a spanking would say to this child! Understanding the child’s primary Love Language allows you to discipline with love and makes that discipline far more effective.

Say what you want
Be direct and use few words. “Don’t” is a meaningless word. Close your eyes and see what happens when someone says, “Don’t see a white fence”. It’s the same with other negatives … if you say “No running!” the only word they get out of it is “RUNNING!” So instead say: Tip toe, Walk, March, Sit, whatever!

It is not always necessary to use words … model tiptoeing … point to the toy basket when it’s time to clean up … learn a few ASL signs to use instead of words, such as IN, OUT, HELP, THANK YOU, PLEASE, ETC. (Our Sign&Sing™ program is a great way to do this!)

If your child throws the rhythm sticks in class, tell him to “Hold on tight!” If he continues to throw, say, “I want everybody to be safe. I am worried the sticks may hurt someone.” If he still persists give him a tissue and say, “You may throw this!”

Choose your words carefully: “NO!” and “Good Job!” are very stress-inducing words. Praising with a “Good job!” is stressful to children because they will not understand exactly what is so “good”. They wonder if it’s at all possible to maintain this “good job” in order to earn your love (which WE think is unconditional). In order to be in control, some children will make mistakes on purpose. They are afraid of not being sure of your “praise”. Instead always give informational feedback. Ex: When your child plays the drum, you can say: “You played that loudly!” Or “You scratched the drum with your fingers.”

Definition of STRESS: Feeling out of control
Stress puts a person on high alert and when that happens, ALL information brought to the brain through the senses is deemed extremely important. Even the feel of the tag on your shirt or the seam on your socks clamors for your undivided attention. It can be overwhelming. Lots of challenging behavior can happen when a child is experiencing stress. A child, who feels out of control and stressed out, will choose to be out of control so that he is at least in control of something!

Early childhood is full of tremendous brain growth spurts. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will actually hinder brain growth. Did you know that cortisol takes 1½ days to dissipate from the system! Toddlers receive a shot of cortisol on average every 9 minutes of their waking day.
Children under lots of stress will function primarily in their “brain stem” and not experience growth in the frontal lobes. The brain stem is concerned with survival: flight or fight! The actions of a child operating in the brain stem are the physical expressions of their feelings.

As a parent, your job is to model from the highest state of your brain. Anytime you use fear and intimidation your child will flip to their survival state. Your child will mirror the state you are in. (Ever notice that when you’re stressed out, your kids are at their worst?)

One of the best reasons to stay enrolled in Kindermusik is all the great knowledge your teacher imparts about the role our activities play in your child’s development. Here are some examples that will help you know what to do when you see those behaviors in class that make you crazy…

Vestibular stimulation:
Ever notice how some children crave spinning? Why do we get dizzy and why does it take us longer to recover than it takes children?

The first sensor system to fully develop in utero is the vestibular system. It is a complex set of tubing filled with fluid and hair cells deep in the inner ear. When the head moves, the fluid moves which stimulates the hair cells. Information from the position of the hair cells is used to maintain balance and with its neurological connections, it plays important roles in posture, tone, coordination, vision and alertness – it primes the brain to learn.4

In class, does your child run around and around and around? By rocking, spinning, swinging, rolling, running in circles, he’s trying to stimulate his own vestibular system. When this happens, first assure yourself it’s perfectly normal. Then, adapt the activity to fulfill your child’s need for vestibular stimulation…. pick him up, twirl him around, or swing back and forth holding him around his chest. On rocking activities, try rocking ALL the way back and forth. Stimulating his vestibular system will cause the chemical, serotonin, to be released in the brain, leaving your child feeling calm, secure, safe, and ready to focus and learn. Next time you’re in class, notice your Kindermusik teacher will sometimes insert this kind of activity to cause this effect.

Scaffolding:

Children who learn that they have the capacity and opportunity to exert control over their actions early in life may be more likely to learn to accept responsibility for their actions as they mature.

Scaffolding is a great discipline tool because it engages children and invites them to choose to do what we want them to do. You will have more success if you convince your child to choose to work with you than if you insist or demand. Meet the child where s/he is. So if she’s running, run with her. If she’s rolling, get on the floor and roll with her. Let your child be the leader.

Deep pressure:

Deep pressure is very calming. It also helps children going through growth spurts know where their body begins and ends!

Does your child ever give “crash” hugs or want to crash his body into other people and things?
Children crave deep pressure. Any pressure that compresses the joints and bones in the spine satisfies this need. Even screaming and singing very loudly will provide deep pressure. But you can meet this need in other ways! … quick hugs to the sternum, falling down, pushing (ie. try “wheel barrowing” your child to give deep pressure to the shoulders), let your child run from across the room and jump into your arms, bounce him/her on your knee and fall between your legs (be sure to be sitting on the floor when you do this!).

Enclosed and dark:

Children crave being enclosed. It is very calming and helps filter out some overload to the senses.

Do you know anyone who uses all the couch cushions to build forts? Ever wonder why the kids are more interested in the boxes than the new toys at Christmastime? Is yours the child in class who likes to crawl under the story blanket, under the table, under a chair, etc? At home, play hiding games, make couch and blanket forts, let them play with boxes, etc.

Blowing:

We all have many nerve endings around our mouth, which crave stimulation. (Stressed out adults chew on pencils, drink hot drinks, eat spicy foods, chew on straws, blow cigarette smoke, etc.) Children need acceptable ways to stimulate these nerve endings. They often chew on their sleeves, hair, toys, or suck their fingers, etc.

Guiding them to blow bubbles, scarves, and feathers calms children and helps them focus on learning.

Jumping and rolling:

Trunk initiated movement like rolling helps children gain the most fundamental control of their body and its movement. After mastery they can then work more proficiently on movement and control of the limbs…then the fine motor skill work comes next. Trying to master fine motor skills before the others is asking for frustration and trouble! Babies who are in the car seat all day really, really miss out!!!

These movements are also stimulating to the vestibular system and give deep pressure. All this is fun play for children, but it’s also their very important work.

So, to channel challenging behaviors in your child, STAY in Kindermusik and try these simple steps. Use this opportunity to get your child from a frustrating time to a time of learning and empowerment. We, your Kindermusik teachers, are here to help you! In class, observe your child. Feel for your child. Understand, so that you can do what’s best for both of you. And, if you haven’t done so already, re-enrol for next semester. It starts January 22!

Many thanks to Kindermusik Educator, Yvette Odell, for this great information!


Resources:
1Becky Bailey, Conscious Discipline
2Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages
3Jill Molli, Loving Guidance Association
4http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestibular_system

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