IDENTIFYING AND ASSISTING CHILDREN
WITH BEHAVIOURAL PROBLEMS
A SCOUTERS POINT-OF-VIEW
by Anna Nickson - Colony Service Scouter - Sunnybrook Area (GTR) and Kevin D. Nickson - Area Commissioner - Sunnybrook Area (GTR) (1997)
It is important to realize that all children go through periods of behavioural and/or emotional difficulty. It is also important to recognize that all children are individuals, therefore there is no universal formula for resolving all emotional or behavioural problems. Within the next little while, hopefully, I can begin to offer some insight to recognizing children with difficulties and offer some suggestions to help you, as Leaders find the right approach to aid them.
THE HYPERACTIVE CHILD
The most common complaint that I hear is the scenario of the Beaver, Cub or Scout who never sits still. You know, the child whose motor is always running, climbing the walls, talkative. This child is often wrongly labelled as the hyperactive child or as the child with attention deficit disorder, a popular term used these days to label any child who has energy to burn. There are many medical reasons to explain hyperactivity ranging from genetic factors to sugar in the diet. To this day, scientific evidence does not conclusively substantiate all of these claims but there are proven methods, which as adults we can focus on to assist these children so that they can truly benefit from the program that you are offering.
PROVIDE AN ACTIVE, WELL-ROUNDED PROGRAM
Very often children become distracted because they are bored. By providing a program
that combines active games, songs, sports and fresh air with relaxing stories and engrossing badge work there is little time to become bored and less of a chance of
becoming distracted. Use this child's energy constructively. Have him assist in running a game, setting up a project etc.
- All Leaders should be consistent and somewhat predictable. This makes a child feel safer and calmer.
- The child must know clearly what is expected. Without anger or judgement, get down to the child's size and state clearly what behaviour is acceptable.
- Prepare a child before an event takes place. i.e. There is 5 minutes left in the soccer game or 5 minutes to storytime. This helps to prepare the child to focus on the
Teach the child to talk to himself in order to guide his own behaviour. You might start with a small card that says "STOP AND THINK" or "CALM DOWN' . These cards act as visible reminders. Then allow him to use these phrases out loud without the card until he can accomplish this silently. Remember to always praise the child when he calms himself down with a pat on the shoulder and a "Good for you, you calmed yourself down". Positive praise (acknowledgement) reinforces appropriate behaviour.
MODEL APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR
Never underestimate the effect that you have on a child. Children are very intuitive. They may not always hear what you say but they rarely miss what you do.
- Do not lose your temper. If necessary take a deep breath, leave the scene or room for a few minutes or have another leader deal with the situation.
- Do not nag. A certain amount of acceptance of the child's natural personality will prevent alot of problems.
- Be respectful of adults and children. Remember that respect is earned, even by an adult, so prove yourself worthy to be respected by your youth.
- Be neat and organized.
- Be responsible and reliable.
- Be responsive. Children need to know that you are really listening to them. Listening means that you care.
- Have a sense of humour. Laughter can be the best medicine especially when a situation becomes tense.
HELP THE CHILD TO FOCUS
Speak to the child, not at him. Get down to his level, make eye contact. Have the child repeat the information that he has just heard to make sure that he understands the instructions given or your expectations.
THE AGGRESSIVE CHILD
Aggressive behaviour is a normal reaction in young children. It emerges most often when children feel the need to protect their safety, happiness, individual position within the family or group, their inability to verbalize frustration or as a learned response i.e. a parent or leader gives into the child's demands in order to stop the undesired behaviour. By 7-9 years of age children are fairly well controlled, so if the the child still engages in frequent, excessive aggressive acts, parents and leaders need to take swift, serious action to curb the aggressive behaviour.
- Often children who strike out physically cannot or do not know how to control their
tempers. When a child's aggression begins to escalate, calm him down by pointing out
what he is doing and provide him with alternatives.
- Acknowledge the child's feelings. Even if the behaviour is unacceptable, the child's feelings are real, so do not minimize the frustrations or concerns of the child. One approach might be "I know that in this situation you feel like hitting, but hitting is not acceptable, why don't you tell me how you feel".
- Let the child know that feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger are acceptable. Teach the child to verbalize those feelings. One game to assist children in the verbalization of feelings is the "what if" or "what would you do" game.
- Many boys have been taught that in order to be masculine, one must be tough or in other words, aggressive. Try to break this stereotype whenever possible.
- When dealing with a confrontation, focus on the victim first. Only after the victim has been cared for and reassured should you turn your attention to the aggressor.
- Praise desired behaviour.
- Provide physical outlets. Provide many opportunities for exercise, sports and strenuous outdoor play to help release pent up tension and energy.
- Call time out when necessary.
- Teach assertive instead of aggressive responses. i.e. "You took my book. It's mine and I want it back. It makes me angry when you take my things without asking me first".
- Be firm, fair and consistent. Set down the rules of acceptable behaviour. Make sure that the child is aware of and understands these rules. Explain the consequences for unacceptable behaviour and be sure to follow through. There is nothing more damaging than an idle threat. Most importantly, make sure that all leaders follow the prearranged guidelines and that the rules apply to all member of the section.
- Although, as leaders, you cannot monitor the child's television or music exposure, do not glorify programs or action heros that promote violent acts as a way of solving problems.
- Do not overlook verbal aggression. A child that attempts to "push all the right buttons" causing a friend to strike back may be testing the water. Be careful not to blame the hitter and allow the instigator to go free. Both parties need to be dealt with.
There are no real statistics as to the number of children who act relatively silly at various ages. Also, there are no estimates as to what percentage of time a child must act foolishly before the behaviour is considered a problem, making it very difficult to determine whether constant clowning should be considered a problem or a sign of general immaturity. Therefore, the concern about clowning/silliness becomes a combination of the amount of the child's behaviour and the parent's and leader's attitude and tolerance about it. Children who feel negatively about themselves try acting like clowns to obtain attention from others. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. Peer influence is very powerful. Peers very often encourage or even provoke a child to act foolishly. Positive or very negative reactions from peers, respected adults, or parents can reinforce clowning in the child who is lonely and desperate for attention. Silliness is very common in young children and absolutely contagious when friends act silly. For some children silliness can continue as a habit if they are not taught appropriate humour. These children may believe that the only way to get the attention that they crave, is to be laughed at. Similarly, they may feel that the only way to be humorous is to be a clown. There is no question that a constant
clowner can be very disruptive to a program.
What to do?
- Observe and take action. Take a few minutes, several times during meetings to watch the child. Does he have friends? Is he able to socialize with his peers? Does he actively participate in the program or is he hesitant? Does he prefer to hang around the leaders and not his peers? You may find that this child needs guidance.
- Provide needed attention.
- Model and teach appropriate humour.
- Reinforce appropriate humour and ignore silliness. Behaviour that is truly ignored will diminish.
Underlying many childhood problems is a feeling of low self-esteem. Children's behaviour is usually determined by how they feel about themselves. Feeling worthless, lacking in self-respect or a lack of self-confidence influences their attitudes and behaviours. We would all agree that children should feel good about themselves, that is, they should have a basically good self-concept, so why are so many children having feelings of inadequacy and how do we help rebuild their self-esteem?
It is important to remember that the best resources that you have on hand are the parents. They know their children . If you have questions or concerns about their child, ask them. Remember that you are not a doctor. You cannot and should not attempt to diagnose a physical or an emotional problem. You are a Leader and you set the pace within your program. Ignoring inacceptable behaviour only condones it. Nagging will only force a child to shut down towards you and the program. Excessive criticism will give a reason for a child to sneak around behind your back to accomplish his goals for acceptance. As a Leader, you have the ability to teach and more importantly, model acceptable behaviour which will benefit the individual child, your program in general and your section as a whole.
by Anna Nickson - Colony Service Scouter - Sunnybrook Area (GTR)