A-B-C – are we missing the letters of child behaviour?

When I started my career working as a nursery nurse and later as a Nursery Manager and then a lecturer of early years I would routinely teach the ABC of behaviour to my staff and students… it was as simple as falling off a bike and a lesson I continue to use in my work as a therapist, however it is a lesson that we are forgetting in LIFE.

Let me explain….

A B C of behaviour 

The ABC of behaviour looks at child behaviour from the position that everything has an ABC

A – Antecedent (the thing that caused the behaviour)

B – Behaviour (the behaviour being demonstrated)

C – Consequence (the result of the behaviour)

It is an insightful way of remembering that NOTHING appears without a cause, so all behaviours from children are created by an ‘A’…

Skipping the key letters….

However as the years go by, life becomes more fast paced, our time is stretched to within an inch of its ability we are focussing so heavily on B and C that we are missing the reason that everything happens….

Let me give you some examples… 

Thumb Sucking – thumb sucking (behaviour) is the resultant factor of a young child feeling an uncomfortable or anxious feeling and NOT knowing what to do with it. Their thumb found its way to their mouth and their brain found a pleasure to replace the pain. The resultant thumb sucking may seem cute as a baby but as the child grows if their anxiety is not eased then the thumb sucking continues and we become concerned about teeth formation (consequence) and want to remove it. We try nail varnish which tastes horrible but our child overrides it and continues to suck their thumb (because we haven’t eased the anxiety) we try removing it from their mouth whilst sleeping (but they find their way back (because we haven’t eased the anxiety) – see where I am going with this? When we resolve the triggering anxiety (antecedent) which created the thumb sucking then we resolve the behaviour…..

Negative Behaviour – When our child misbehaves we can be quite to punish their behaviour (consequence) embaressed by their outbursts and wanting them to stop them. However how often do we push a behaviour to find out later that they were unwell, upset, traumatised, instigated by their now confessing sibling. Behaviour rarely (if ever) appears without cause… when an adult slaps another it was never because they were silent – it was because they were chastised, upset, annoyed or infuriated (see the pattern) – negative behaviour is a behavioural result of an antecedent and where this behaviour keeps emerging it was invariably because of something that happened. This could be because they were bored, upset, annoyed, frustrated, unwell, angry, scared…… if we resolve the emotional driver we can intervene the behaviour.

Immaturity/Rudeness – Ever noticed that in situations where we expect our child/teen to behave impeccably they suddenly have an outburst (behaviour) which makes us want to run for the hills? Immaturity and rudeness are often the resulting behaviour from anxiety or uncomfortable feelings that a child or teen does not know how to process. There is a good reason why we watch lessons at school or incidents that happen where we rely on them behaving well and watching a disintegration unfold (consequence)… If we experience feeling of fear, discomfort, anxiety, embaressment or paranoia (antecedent) we can often respond by trying to diffuse the situation with being a clown/dismissing it. The brain in it’s discomfort is trying to remove itself from these feelings and as such it runs for the heels of safety…. by displaying immaturity or rudeness we detract from the discomfort and break the moment – consequentially our parents may want to hide but the child has removed themselves from upset.

How do we help? 

We so often take things at face value, not because we are intentionally trying to be dismissive BUT because life has taught us to be this way. Social media, instant messaging, email, texts, they are all face value, we jump to assumptions, we dismiss easily, we block and remove ourselves, but are we missing the bigger picture of emotional and mental health in our children because of it?

It is a rarity that a child or teen will display a behaviour that does not have an antecedent… (on writing this I couldn’t think of any) but it is a regularity that we do not notice what has happened (or they don’t tell us). So we punish the behaviour but fail to support the child/teen to resolve the reasoning behind it and so the cycle continues (often until as an adult they appear in my office sick to death of behaving in these perpetual cycles).

So what can we do?

1. Step back – before you step in step back and look at what could have caused the outburst or the emotion that may be driving it

2. Support resolution of the feeling – if we can identify the feeling we can find support mechanisms (personally or professionally) to support resolving them so the situation is easier to manage and stops the behaviour presenting

3. Get help – If the cycle is continual then seeking professional support to help the child or teen identify their triggers and reprogram them will allow them to find peace of mind (and calmer behaviours)

 

For information about how my coaching and therapy work can help a child to resolve their thoughts and emotions then you can visit www.astepatatime.org.uk and visit the child and teen page.

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