You might be weary of trips to the grocery store that end in screaming, or heartbroken that your child does not know what to do at a playground. But things do not always have to be this way. The road to improving behaviors starts with believing that your child – no matter what their behavior looks like now – can change with the right support and knowledge. An important first step for parents of children with disabilities is to understand why behavior problems are happening in the first place.
How do you think your child looks at the everyday world? It’s useful to consider this because, for many children with disabilities, tantrums are a sign of frustration with their world. Maybe they can’t communicate the way they want to or process all the information coming at them. For children with sensory issues, ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches can be almost painful, causing a behavioral reaction.
There are changes you can make at home to help lessen the chaos, empower your child, and give your family a gentler life. For example, many children do better with visual cues or pictures rather than words alone. We have more ideas below.
Don’t forget about taking care of yourself too. Sometimes trying to correct behaviors is just too much, and you need to take a break or a respite to get everyone back on track.
The following list has some ideas and strategies for changing behavior (also known as behavior modifications):
It’s helpful to know if your child’s behaviors are more of an issue with their behavioral health or their mental health. This might be hard, because there is no official definition of the difference between them. What one person sees as a behavioral health concern, another might see as a mental health concern. But here are some basic definitions:
Getting a diagnosis is helpful for finding the right help for your child, but this can take time and the diagnosis may change as your child grows and develops. The important thing is to start getting treatment and support early, even if the diagnosis is unclear.
If your child is showing persistent disruptive, self-harming or violent behaviors (or you just want to get help for your child), you can see our page on finding mental health resources for children to find out where to start. Professionals who might help you and your child include school counselors, behavior specialists, therapists, social workers, and many others.
Strategies for changing behavior, like the ones we described above, can help children with mental health conditions as well. Behavioral interventions, in addition to other mental health treatment, help children start to take control of their actions and reactions.