My child had significant “behaviors” when he was young. He threw things, screamed and yelled. He hit, kicked, broke things, flailed, and thrashed.
Anyone who didn’t know him would assume he needed more discipline. Someone who didn’t know the situation might think he was a bad kid.
But my son had significant anxieties and a sensory processing disorder. Regulating emotions and showing his feelings appropriately was difficult for him. He had mood swings. He was either whistling on Cloud 9 or having a meltdown.
He needed my help. And I learned strategies to help him.
I first needed to be sure he had somewhere to go when he was angry or upset that allowed him to express his needs. Hitting, kicking, and throwing his body around were valid needs for him, so I created an area with a punching bag, pillows, a bean bag, and a crash pad just for him that he could use and be safe.
I made a place where he could go rip up paper. Sometimes he did this to show his emotions and tear something up. Other times it was merely the sensation of ripping the paper – the sound and feel of ripping it.
He needed a space in his closet where he could go and be alone and pop sheets of bubble wrap. It was calming and focusing for him. I made that, too.
I also had to allow him to growl. There was a time that I couldn’t allow my son to growl when he was angry. I thought it was inappropriate and inhuman. But one day I became angry about something and realized that inside my head, I was growling.
I, too, growled when I was angry – I just knew how to keep it silent for others. After that day, I allowed him to growl when he was mad. I hoped he wouldn’t still be growling when he was 45 years-old, but the truth was, he needed a way to express his anger. Growl away, son!
I also found it helpful to put a name to the emotions he was feeling. If I knew he was angry, I would label it for him. “You are so angry, aren’t you? You wanted it to be your turn with that toy, but it’s Milo’s turn. It feels unfair, doesn’t it? You are so mad!” Sometimes naming the emotion for my son helped him.
He learned (slowly) what his emotions meant and to express them in healthier ways. Also, utilizing a poster with pictures of facial expressions and emotions was helpful. We could point to the emotions on the poster and talk about them.
The biggest key was for me to realize that all behavior is communication. His actions were not behaviors. He did not require stricter or harsher discipline. He just needed help with his emotions. These strategies were not an overnight fix, but they helped my son learn to better regulate his emotions.
I found this article especially helpful in learning ways to help my son: When Your Child Engages in Difficult Behaviors, by David Pitonyak.
You can visit this website for more information about parenting children with difficult behaviors.