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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Reducing Your Child’s Disruptive Behavior

Your child’s teacher has notified you that your child is disruptive in the classroom.  You know your child exhibits disruptive behavior at home.  Here are some tips to reduce your child’s disruptive behavior.

  • Speak with your child: seek to understand what your child is thinking or feeling that is causing him to exhibit disruptive behavior. Does he want attention? Does he have energy to burn (i.e., he needs exercise)? Is he experiencing anxiety? Does he feel upset that he has no control over his circumstances?
  • Help your child understand what he thinks and feels and why he thinks and feels the way that he does.
  • Assess what role, if any, you play in creating your child’s disruptive behavior. What kind of example are you setting for your child? Is your lifestyle harried and chaotic or calm and peaceful? Do you run roughshod over people or exhibit empathy? Do you want to be the center of attention or prefer to give-and-take attention? Do you regularly attempt to view things from the perspectives of others? Do you apologize when you adversely affect someone or do something wrong? Do you speak often about the Golden Rule, ethics, and the value of empathy? Do you exhibit these in your own life? Do you ensure that the people who come in contact with your child exhibit these as well? If you find that you play a role in creating your child’s disruptive behavior, alter your behaviors or minimize the impact that your behaviors have on your child.
  • Provide your child with constructive ways of addressing his thoughts and feelings. You cannot successfully battle your child’s nature, but you can successfully shape how he expresses his nature. Lovingly and clearly explain to your child what behaviors you expect from him. Give your child options from which he can choose to allow him some control over his circumstances. For example, you may say, “I understand that you were frustrated when the teacher told you that you couldn’t speak during class today. Still, what she asked of you was reasonable since it is her job to teach all the students in your classroom, and that means that all the students have to be paying attention to her, not you. What she’s doing is a good thing: she’s trying to help you get ready so that you can do well in next year’s classes. If you don’t listen to her, you will not do well this year and will then lack the knowledge you need to succeed each year after this as well. You can goof around all you want during recess. I know it can be ‘boring’ sometimes in school, but I know you: you can do this! Meanwhile, it’s normal to feel frustrated from time to time, and not being able to do what we want as soon as we want to do it can be a normal cause of frustration for people, yet few of us get to do what we want when we want to do it with any degree of frequency. There are lots of constructive ways of dealing with frustration. You can use your frustration to intensify your focus on what your teacher is saying. You can temporarily ignore your frustration until there is a more appropriate time to address it. You can calmly talk about your frustration with me or someone else that you trust . . . when you are not interrupting others to do so. You can exercise at recess, do something physical that exhausts you. You can calmly seek to resolve whatever is causing your frustration . . . for example, by speaking with your teacher and asking for an opportunity to walk to the bathroom (and using that walk as an opportunity to get up, move around, and shake off your ‘boredom’). There are lots of other constructive responses to frustration, but yelling and being unpleasant aren’t constructive responses. I love you and don’t want you to be frustrated or have difficulties in your relationships. So, I’d like you to choose a response that is constructive.”
  • Ask your child to repeat back to you the key aspects of what you have just said to him. For example, you may say, “Ok, just so that I am sure that what I said and what you heard are the same thing, because we know that communication is a tricky, tricky thing, would you tell me what you heard me say just now, please?”
  • When disruptive behavior occurs thereafter, speak with your child about the consequences if the behavior continues. Do not make empty threats. For example, imagine this scenario: you say, “Johnny, if you do not sit down, then I don’t think you will behave properly for your playdate this afternoon, so I will not take you to your playdate. I don’t want your friends to see you behaving so disrespectfully.” If Johnny does not, in fact, settle down, then you should not take Johnny to his playdate that afternoon. Johnny needs to see a strong connection between behaviors and consequences. He also needs to trust the things you say to him. (Note: while consequences may vary with your child’s age, ranging from time-outs for toddlers to groundings for teens, or the temporary loss of a toy for a toddler or the temporary loss of a privilege for a teen, one consequence that should always be a constant is apology. Your child should learn that he needs to apologize when he has done something wrong.)
  • Balance nurturing and understanding your child with setting behavioral expectations for your child and holding him accountable thereafter.
  • Praise behavioral progress and the things your child does well.
  • If your child’s behaviors do not improve gradually after you have implemented and consistently applied the tips above, then it is time to speak with your child’s physician. Psychotherapy and/or medication may be recommended. (Note: toddlers will not immediately grasp the life lessons you are teaching above, but you must persevere. If you do not, you will have diminished opportunity to re-teach the lesson when your child becomes a teen.)

By following the tips above, you can reduce your child’s disruptive behavior.

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