Dealing with challenging behaviour in children

Do you ever feel like you are really good at running your business but you kinda suck at being a parent? Stephanie Wicker from Simply Kids is here to help.

Do you ever feel like you are really good at running your business but you kinda suck at being a parent?
Are your kids acting up and you have no idea why (or what to do)?

Stephanie Wicker-Campbell from Simply Kids, a business devoted to helping raise happy, calm kids, is here to help.

Read on for a helpful Q&A with this leading parenting expert

What are the most common parent/child issues?

This is a tough question to answer because all families are different and all kids are different. What one family may struggle with, another may not. What I do see time and time again - and what genuinely interrupts our ability to teach and support children during challenging behaviour - is our tendency to take those behaviours so personally.

Of course we take them personally! Show me a human that doesn't feel hurt when they are ignored, smacked in the face or yelled at. But here's the thing: a child's behaviour is not personal, even though it may feel like it some days.

Children do what they do for a reason. Once we understand how a child's brain works and how decisions are made, we can take a deep breath of relief, knowing that their actions are natural and reactive, which means they are not personal against us.

This realisation can radically change some family's interactions. By removing that wedge between the parent and child ("Why do you always do this? Don't you know how much it hurts mummy?") adults become empowered and the ability to remain calm amplifies immediately ("I can see you're having a hard time"). This change in an individual's mindset can boost their ability to become a calmer, happier parent.

How can parents address parent/child issues?

The solution is simple (but not always easy). Take the time to understand your youngster's development. Learn what is lying beneath the behaviour and what life skills your child needs in order to cope more easily during challenges or situations that aren't on their terms.

This is where children (and some adults) struggle the most. In health psychology, these 'triggers' are called stressors. The brain has an emotional reaction when it experiences a stressor.
A stressor for a young child may be hearing the word 'no', being told to share or having to wait their turn. These all require coping skills that their brains are still developing, meaning children need us to co-regulate with them (rather than place them in time out or shame them for their natural, reactive emotions).

Once we understand that big, bubbly behaviour is natural and part of a child's learning, we have the ability to relax ("I knew this was coming because her brain is struggling to cope") and choose the next best step forward.

Should you tailor your approach for children of different ages? Can you have the same rules for everyone or do you need a different 'plan' for each child?

This completely depends on the family dynamic, the individual child and the circumstances. There will be times when children may experience a different set of rules based on their age and current responsibilities but the core values of the family should always be consistent.

When I work with families we discuss individual plans and family plans. Some youngsters need specific support, just like some of the parents need specific support. For example, last week I was coaching a couple and we created an individual plan for the father to help him remain calm when the children were 'acting out'.

This started with some basic knowledge around behaviour (why children act out), strategies for the father when he's feeling overwhelmed (how to express feelings effectively and boost self-accountability) and, finally, how to coach children through those tough behaviours (how to respond).
I'm using this example because it's important to see how all people are individuals and will require an individual approach, including us adults.

Are there archetypes amongst children? If so, what are they?

Some psychologists practice archetypes but I do not. The reason I actually avoid labelling children based on their personality and behaviour is because it places an expectation, sometimes unconscious, in our parenting or teaching approach. This can reinforce specific behaviour and punish unexpected behaviour, thus potentially shaming a child's sense of identity (unintentionally, of course).

Children have a way of living up to our expectations. When we incorporate archetypes and labels into our approach to behaviour, children often adapt to those labels. My approach, instead, is to allow children to manage their own self discovery by avoiding labels or unconscious shaming ("You're usually shy but today you were talking up a storm!"). While this may come from a good place, children can feel shame ("She's disappointed in me for not being shy. Next time I'll be shy.")

What resources and support is available for parents who are struggling?

We live in a wonderful age of information and technology. Parents struggling to cope have resources at their finger tips. From blog posts to online parenting summits to 1:1 coaching, families can find some peace in evidence-based support.

My website provides behaviour blogs, digital parenting books, downloadable family activities and coaching programs (including in-home coaching).

Recommended Viewing: Webinar Managing Expectations (Yours and Theirs) - with Stephanie Wicker-Campbell

What about parenting issues between parents? What are some of the big ones?

One of the common conflicts I see between parents is when the couple does not see eye to eye on disciplinary approaches. For example, one parent may use Time Out while the other attempts to reason through the situation with their child.

The challenge amplifies once one (or both) of the parents questions the other's approach in an attempt to change them to be more like themselves. Effective communication begins with acceptance. Accept that we are individuals and we won't always be in agreement. Accept that we can only control our own behaviour. Accept that people resist when others attempt to "change" them.

This acceptance is what allows us to remain calm and choose the next step towards having an open conversation around important topics. This is where I focus on teaching my families the "Three R's of Effective Communication".

3 R's Of Effective Communication

1. Regulate

When we begin a conversation based on anger, frustration or other strong emotions, the other side is likely to feel attacked. Once someone feels they're being attacked they are likely to either avoid us or become aggressive. This is why the first step in effective communication (especially in sensitive circumstances such as differences in parenting) is regulating our own emotional reactions before we open up.

2. Relate

The next best step forward is relating that to that individual. "I see what you mean and I understand your side". This goes a long way in opening the doors for communication. You don't have to agree on everything. Finding common ground and relating to their view on the topic will naturally encourage them to do the same.

3. Reason

Once you have practiced the above steps, you are in a position to begin reasoning. Remembering that most parents are doing their best, you can begin exploring your options.

We do what we understand. I always begin by simplifying my viewpoint. "This is why my approach is like this". Focus the conversation on you and your viewpoint (rather than what you don't like about them or their viewpoint).

While this takes time and practice, effective communication can radically change a home from chaotic to calm.

How does extended family fit in? What do you do if the grandparents spoil your kids rotten?

Extended family is similar to my approach between couples. Understand effective communication techniques and begin using them. In addition to my Three Rs, I encourage parents to be on the same page before approaching any sensitive topics remembering to focus around your viewpoint and/or parenting style instead of attacking theirs (sometimes harder than it sounds).

Modelling also goes a long, long way when introducing or urging new concepts around raising children. "Wow! The children really listen to her. What is she doing differently?" Sometimes it's as simple as that. Show others how it's done!

What are the ultimate guidelines for a healthy, happy parent/child relationship?

A healthy, happy parent/child relationship (just like any interpersonal relationship) will always be determined first and foremost by our relationship with ourselves. We bring emotional baggage into all of our relationships, especially our relationship with children. I encourage parents to practice daily mindfulness and self-awareness. This leads to intentional, mindful parenting decisions and an overall happier home.

What often gets in the way of a happy relationship with youngsters? I have found the answer to be our big emotional reactions to their challenging behaviour. "My kids never listen to me. I just want my children to appreciate me". This message we tell ourselves: "If my kids don't listen to me, it means they don't appreciate me," is entirely based on our interpretation of their actions but that does not make it true.

This takes us back to my very first point: understanding children's behaviour and development goes a long way in helping us support them with love and understanding.

Our ability to forgive ourselves and let go of any self-doubt or self-shame from past mistakes is what allows us to learn and retain new information and concepts around parenting. Often, we cannot see past our own mistakes. We carry them with us like a talisman and take them on as self-appointed labels.

What we believe about ourselves is what we tend to manifest: "I was an angry child, I'll probably be an angry parent". Through daily mindfulness practices we can uncover these (often) unconscious beliefs and begin making genuine changes: "I was a misunderstood child and now I have learned how to be a calm parent."

Small changes in how we visualise our parenting has an impact on how we choose to parent. Calm, happy relationships don't happen by chance, they happen by choice.

What can you do if things go seriously off the rails?

Get in touch. Find a safe space to express yourself without judgment. Communication and acceptance are huge steps towards getting back 'on track'.

Self-shaming and rejection are what stop us from seeking help People think, "I've failed. I'm not worthy. There's no hope for me".

I teach parents how to accept and commit to becoming the best version of themselves. "I accept that I'm not perfect: I accept that I have made mistakes. I accept that there is help and support available and I choose to reach out".

And what about situations with shared custody? What do you recommend here?

By now you probably know my answer. Communication, communication, communication. Bring the 'Three Rs' with you and practice effective communication. It's not always going to be easy. We're human and our emotions can get in the way. With acceptance, commitment and practice it can be achieved.

Recommended Reading: Sharing The Load At Home
Recommended Reading: Extreme Togetherness - Working From Home With The Kids In Lockdown

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