Often parents ask us what to do when their child falls to the floor and starts screaming, or throws a fit in public.
We have some great tips for this! But before we can tell you what to do, we have to look at why they are doing it. There are 4 reasons a person engages in an unwanted behavior: escape, attention, access to a tangible item, and sensory seeking.
When you place a demand on a child, such as telling them to clean their room, or telling them that it’s time to go or time for dinner, they may start engaging in undesirable behavior as a way to escape the demand.
To help with this, make sure you prime the child beforehand. Remind him or her that the event is coming up. Get them ready for it. Then make sure that whatever follows the task is a highly preferred activity. After all, leaving the iPad is not as much fun as going to clean your room! But after you clean your room you can go outside or ride your bike—something that’s a lot more fun.
Another reason kids might engage in unwanted behaviors is that they’re looking for attention. This might look like “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom!” One way to handle this situation is to let the child know when you are available for attention. Also, try responding to them with the most attention when they ask for it appropriately, and not when they ask in an inappropriate way.
3. Access to a Tangible Item.
We are talking about the moment your child starts screaming in the store because he wants that Snickers bar or another child’s iPad. One way to handle this situation is to offer an alternative. They can’t have this, but perhaps there is something else they can have.
This usually means that something is going on internally, that we can’t see. Sensory behaviors vary. Some kids will twirl their hair, some insist on putting things in their mouth, etc. Here it is important to match the function. If your child shows a sensory need to put things in his mouth, offer him something safe to chew on. Like a chewie or some gum. This provides the stimulation he is seeking, in a more socially appropriate way.
Your Next Step
If you have any questions about how to identify and manage these behaviors with your child, talk to your therapist! They have lots of ideas for you.