Let’s just say your child is throwing a tennis ball at a wall and you are concerned they may break the window beside it. You’ve asked them to stop and explained why they need to stop. You’ve offered an alternative place to throw the ball but they ignore you…. Come sit with them, you may need to put your hand on the tennis ball, but try not to take it at first and say “You need to stop throwing the tennis ball. It could break the window. Do you think you can stop on your own or do you need my help?”
Most children will say they can stop on their own. If they say they need help, say “how can I help you to stop?” If they do not give an answer, ask “would it help if I held onto the ball for awhile?” This may or may not work but let’s just say it doesn’t. They grab it from you and start throwing it at the wall again. Take a deep breath and say “it looks like you need my help to make a safe choice right now. I’m going to hold onto the ball for awhile, you let me know when you are ready to play with it safely.”
Sometimes you do have to take the ball from them, if after all that they are still unable to play safely with it. The only time I think we are justified (and have a right to impose something on a child) is when it is a safety or a health issue. Even in those moments where guidance is needed to keep everyone safe, we can continue to try to collaborate towards a agreed upon resolution, throughout the process. Ask yourself that before deciding whether you should take the object or not. And always give second chances, as soon as the child agrees to play with the item safely. That makes it a boundary and not a punishment.
If your child’s behaviours are more “annoying” (which is valid BTW) I would try and leave the room or distract but that may not be an option either. If it is meeting a sensory need you can offer other sensory experiences that can help meet those needs in a safer way. Often our child’s repetitive behaviours can cause us anxiety. For them, it is a coping strategy that is meeting sensory needs. For us, it is causing sensory overload, so there is an imbalance that occurs.
Trying to understand why they do whatever it is and offering them your acceptance will probably be the most beneficial for them. For the parent, try mindfulness, relaxation techniques and reflecting on your own ability to handle sensory input. Understanding why they do it and then why it bothers or is troublesome for others is a great start to figuring out how best to support them and yourself.
Age and developmental level would also play a big part in my advice on how to support them and what are reasonable expectations. Between 6-10, for most children, is a “sweet spot” of development and self-regulation, for parents, where children tend to be pretty easy to reason with and understand (this is by no means true for all children).
The teen years bring back a new need for autonomy and a necessity to develop a sense of self that is completely separate from their parents. Not listening to you is how they become themselves, instead of you and who you always envisioned them of being. Their peers and interests become their focus and the skills they may have used to develop close relationships with family, they will then use to develop close peer relationships.
Children under 6 are still learning impulse control and although they are developing a moral compass, it is not always available to them when they are caught up in the moment. Children are PRESENT. They naturally act first and think later… or maybe never. There is this belief that repeated correction is how we change this but actually it is mostly brain development. The relationship you build with your child is more important than teaching impulse control because it’s not really a taught skill, it’s developmental. Whereas, a child’s closest attachments, have a life-long impact.
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