Get to the Bottom of Your Child’s Challenging Behaviors

By Rebecca Bauer

Over the last few months, families have been spending more time together than usual. And we’re learning more about our kids’ habits—including the tantrums and other challenging behaviors. Our experts from recent episodes of Notes from the Backpack: a PTA Podcast offer helpful tips to help figure out what’s up with your kid!

Could my kid be acting out more because they are stressed?

In our episode, What’s Going on in My Kid’s Brain?, Dr. Brandi Kenner says, possibly!

“Stress impacts each of our brains, but for children, it can have much more damaging effects because the brain is still so malleable and it’s still going through with these critical periods of development,” said Kenner.

She adds that it’s really important that we’re gentle with each other because we’re all functioning in a space of many traumas right now, which leads to challenging behaviors.

“Even the uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen from day to day is a traumatic experience itself because, as humans we like patterns and prediction and to be able to have some sense of control around our little worlds around us,” said Kenner.

Could my kid’s frustration with schoolwork be a sign that they need additional support?

In our episode, Supporting Our Kids: Special Education 101, Debra Jennings says if you’re concerned—or even just curious—about your child’s learning struggles or challenging behavior during designated school time, talk to their teacher.

“Parents are learning a lot about what their child is being taught and also about what their child knows,” said Jennings. “If you see that your child is struggling, the first thing that you do, is to reach out to the teacher. This is actually one of the best times to engage parents in their student’s learning. So, let’s take advantage of that!”

Jennings said if the teacher’s response is, we’re going to need to provide the student with a lot more intensive instruction, then that gives us a little bit of an indication of maybe we should ask for the evaluation.

“And you can write to your director of special education or even the principal and request an evaluation for eligibility for special education services,” said Jennings. “That will start the communication and that’ll start the teamwork.”

How do I get to the root causes of my child’s behavior issues?

In our episode, Keep Your Cool: Tackling Behavioral Issues, Dr. Ross Greene says that children act out when they have a problem they can’t solve.

“Challenging behavior is just the signal, just the fever, just the means by which a kid is communicating, I’m stuck,” said Greene. “There are expectations I’m having difficulty meeting.”

Greene added that as caregivers, we are famous for thinking we already know what’s getting in the child’s way. The problem is that we are frequently wrong. He shared a story:

“There was a dad who’s three-year-old daughter was having difficulty brushing her teeth before going to bed,” said Greene. “He was quite certain it was the taste of the toothpaste. But 15 flavors of toothpaste later, she was still having difficulty brushing her teeth. When he finally tried to solve the problem collaboratively, he learned that the electric toothbrush he was using was getting water all over her face and she hated it.”

Greene recommends talking proactively with your child and allowing them to share their feelings, instead of assuming you know.

Get more helpful parenting tips from experts, listen to Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast!

Rebecca Bauer is the Family Engagement Specialist at National PTA.

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