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Understanding and managing challenging behaviour

Written by By Chris van Niekerk, principal of Founders Hill College • Online since 18.01.2018 • Filed under Education • From Sixteen - January to March 2018 page(s) 70-71
Understanding and managing challenging behaviour

Understanding our children’s developmental phase will have a positive effect on how we manage challenging behaviour.

Recently, on a Tuesday morning, a grade 8 girl’s parents arrived at school insisting to see the school principal for an emergency meeting. The issue was that their daughter was apparently ‘not in the mood to come to school. The parents wanted to know what the school was going to do to change her ‘mood’. In another recent incident, a grade 2 child was dropped at school with visible bruising to his face and body. When he was asked what happened, he explained that he interrupted his mother while speaking, and received a ‘hiding’ as punishment for his indiscretion.

Both examples show instances where parents tried to manage their children’s ‘challenging behaviour. These examples are deliberately chose to demonstrate the potential opposite nature of parenting strategies when dealing with children’s discipline. The parents of the grade 8 girl were, in the end, advised that it is not the school’s role to change the ‘moods’ of children, and that the child would be marked absent. The school intervened in the case of the grade 2 boy to prevent further beatings of this nature. The purpose of these examples is to demonstrate that children are socialised very differently by their environments and experiences, and will respond very differently to external stimuli as a result. For example, during a classroom lesson, the grade 8 child in this example may feel completely entitled to interrupt the teacher when she does not agree with some of the teacher’s statements, while the grade 2 child may be too scared to even raise his hand to clarify something that he may not understand, let alone challenge the teacher. This principle of programmed responses based on previous experiences can be carried through to all social spheres of children’s lives, and their general understanding of what they can expect from the world around them and what this world expects from them. Therefore, understanding and managing challenging behaviour in children starts with understanding how children are nurtured and socialised into the weird and wonderful world of adults’ expectations of what kids should be and do. The second important consideration, for getting a better handle on understanding and managing children’s behaviour, is to better educate ourselves as parents and teachers about the nature of children’s developmental phases, from birth to adulthood. For example, foundation phase or intermediate phase teachers are often, and simply because of the developmental phase of the child, considered as superheroes. Children in this developmental phase seek much approval from teachers and parents, and can therefore be managed well with clever and consistent positive reinforcement strategies, with the occasional negative reinforcement to prevent anomalous unwanted behaviour. However, this is less true as children progress through their natural developmental phases, and enter puberty and beyond, where their need to be viewed favourably by their peers often outweighs the need to be ‘approved’ by their teachers or parents. Consequences related to bad decisions, such as pregnancy, car accidents or substance abuse, become very real and parents and teachers get justifiably nervous when kids this age become defiant and difficult to ‘control’. But, if we make peace with (or at least attempt to understand) their development phase better, we might stand a chance of understanding why our current attempts to manage their challenging behaviour has been so woefully unsuccessful. This understanding should lead to us to change our engagement strategies to better align to the inherent nature of children in this developmental phase. There are other dimensions to consider when managing challenging child behaviour, including extraordinary physical and mental conditions in certain children, traumatic events, and unhealthy peer relationships. However, we could make some serious positive inroads into better understanding and managing challenging behaviour in children by educating ourselves on how the world (including us) are nurturing our youngsters as they progress through their natural developmental phases to adulthood.


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Sixteen - January to March 2018

Sixteen - January to March 2018

This article was featured on page 70-71 of Babys and Beyond Sixteen - January to March 2018 .

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