BEHAVIORAL HEALTH AWARENESS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
In today’s world, nuclear family has become the norm or characteristic definition of a family reducing the number of people and relations children are exposed to. This dramatically reduced the quality time children were receiving from their extended or joint family. In this scenario, it’s every parent’s responsibility to build a positive relationship with their child. The simplest way to build positive relationship with a child is to spend quality time with him. If a parent wants, they can come up with hundreds of interactions with their child and make most out of it. For example, enjoying daily moments with your child.
It is very important that children have experiences and relationships that show them that they are valued, capable of achieving things and bring pleasure to parents. Reactions and responses from adults around them make child build a self – image that they see as valued.
Simple signs or gestures are smiling, making eye contact, being physically gentle, encouraging words, and showing interest in what the child is interested in. A child’s self-image is built over continual positive interactions from adults around them. This can also ensure the child, feelings of safety and security.
In some cases, where parents are usually critical about their child or unable to cater to child’s needs may end up making the child distressed forcing the child to seek negative attention to attain what they want.
So, what can parents or caregivers do? The answer comes as a snap at you ‘UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD’.
- Know the strengths and weaknesses of your child
- Know the likes and dislikes of your child
This would give the basic knowledge of your child, based on which we have to plan our interaction with the child, carefully balancing between positive and negative interaction. To ensure healthy self-image, the child should experience 4 times more positive than negative interactions.
If negative interactions are more, it leads to behavioural exhibitions like extreme temper tantrums, stubbornness, verbal aggression, physical aggression and more. Many parents approach a professional with complaints about the child in such situations. As a child psychologist, I would like parents to ask themselves if the negative behaviors are to get attention, favourite toy, favourite activity, sensory satisfaction, to avoid non-preferred person, non-preferred toy, non-preferred activity, or sensory feeling. As they try to answer these questions, they would understand the need for child’s negative behavior. Many parents just end their journey with identifying the problem. The next step would be coping with the negative behaviors.
Some of the advised parental practices are –
- Provide few minutes of 1:1 attention every hour
- Prepare the child for any change in schedule, places or persons interacting with
- Reduce environmental distractions
- Be a good listener
- Establish clear rules
- Give 2 choices whenever possible to encourage the child to feel important in making decisions.
- Call his name, wait for the child to look at you and give instructions
- Give simple, clear, and straight forward directions
- Be patient, but firm
- Use timeouts
- Give positive feedback for every positive or acceptable behaviour
- Help child realize his strengths
- Give breaks as necessary
Whenever a parent or caregiver notices negative behaviors, they should be proactive to use preventive strategies to avoid those behaviors. Parent should reward children for positive attention seeking rather than negative attention seeking. For instance, a child may be colouring. As long as the child is appropriate, we tend to remain silent or use silent gestures or low tone to indicate the appreciation but the same child starts biting on the crayons, we immediately react with a loud tone of voice and elaborate on the incident. So when the child needs your immediate attention, he would seek negative attention as it is loud, immediate and elaborate. Parents should keep off-limit objects out of sight and therefore out of mind to prevent children from throwing temper tantrums. Redirect the child to another activity when negative behaviors are likely. Parents should learn to be tolerant and not battle for everything with the child. Choose the battles.
One more aspect that many parents ignore is ‘Humor’. It is an undervalued parenting tool. Use sense of humor to connect with the child.
Parents are recommended to avoid pitfalls like threats, commands, interrupting, sarcasm, put-downs, counterattacks, insults, teasing, yelling, generalizations (‘you never..’, ‘you always ..’), not responding (silence, sulking, ignoring), bring old topics into discussions
When behavioral disturbances are noticed beyond parental control, it is advisable to seek professional help as many conditions are treatable when diagnosed early through early intervention and holistic approach.