What Is Challenging Behavior? (page 2)
Challenging behavior is any behavior that
- interferes with children’s learning, development, and success at play
- is harmful to the child, other children, or adults
- puts a child at high risk for later social problems or school failure (Klass, Guskin, and Thomas, 1995; Ritchie and Pohl, 1995).
We do not call this behavior challenging because it summons you to a duel or battle but because it is threatening, provocative, and stimulating, all at the same time.
First of all, this behavior is challenging for the child. It puts him in danger by preventing him from learning what he needs to know to succeed in school and get along well with his peers. It is also challenging for him because he probably doesn’t have much control over it. Even if he knows what to do instead—and chances are he doesn’t—his ability to regulate his feelings and actions just isn’t up to the job yet. Improving matters will be an enormous challenge for him.
Perhaps more to the point, challenging behavior is challenging for us, the people around him, his family and teachers. In the face of this behavior, we often find ourselves at a loss. We don’t know how to turn things around, how to make the situation tenable, how to help the child get back on track, behaving appropriately and feeling good about himself.
Yet it is essential for us to rise to this challenge. The child’s future can depend on it—to say nothing of our own sanity and the well-being of the other children in the classroom. By its very nature, a challenge is difficult, but once conquered it brings incredible rewards. This is a challenge that is worthy of your very best efforts.
Any child can exhibit challenging behavior. To begin with, it is developmentally appropriate early in life, and all children continue to use it as they grow—once in a while, when they’re angry or having a bad day. Some even use it for an extended period when parents separate or divorce, a new baby arrives, a parent loses a job or falls ill, or the family moves to a different place. Children find such events confusing and difficult, and they often react with challenging behavior. Although most children eventually manage to cope with these experiences, they usually need extra support and understanding from their families and teachers for quite some time.
Then there are the children whose problems are more difficult, the children who have come to rely on challenging behavior as the best way to respond to a situation. Their behavior is challenging in all three aspects of the definition and demands very special care and handling. With the appropriate information and strategies, the adults in their lives can play a pivotal role, helping these children avoid serious risk and blossom into the fully functioning people all children deserve to become.
This book focuses on aggressive, antisocial, and disruptive behaviors because their impact is so dramatic and so vast. But many of the ideas here will work equally well with children who display timid and withdrawn behaviors, which certainly also qualify as challenging.
Isn’t challenging behavior sometimes appropriate for very young children?
Many children discover the use of physical aggression before their first birthday, as they become interested in controlling their own possessions and activities (Coie and Dodge, 1998). In one study, most mothers reported that their children grabbed, pushed, bit, hit, attacked, bullied, or were “cruel” by the time they turned 2 years old. Children with siblings exhibit more aggressive behavior than only children, and when there’s a brother or sister in the family, boys and girls behave equally aggressively (Pepler and Craig, 1999; Tremblay et al., 1999).
In the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, a random sample of more than 20,000 children living in Canada, researchers found that the use of physical aggression peaks between the ages of 27 and 29 months, when 53.3 percent of boys and 41.1 percent of girls are trying it out (Tremblay et al., 1996b). As Richard E. Tremblay of the University of Montreal points out, “The question . . . we’ve been trying to answer for the past 30 years is how do children learn to aggress. [But] this is the wrong question. The right question is how do they learn not to aggress” (Holden, 2000).
A Rose by Any Other Name
Challenging is not the only label that adults have affixed to problem behaviors or the children who use them. Here are some others:
- High maintenance
- High needs
- Out of control
- Hard to manage
- At risk
- A problem
- Attention seeking
Labels are extremely powerful, which is why it’s wiser not to use them—or if you do, to apply them to the behavior rather than the child. Employing language carefully makes a big difference in the way you see a child and think about who he is and what he can and cannot do. Negative labels can all too easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. They prevent you from seeing the child’s positive qualities and may even cause you to lower your expectations of him. A child you’ve thought of as stubborn could just as easily be tenacious or persistent, important characteristics for success in school.
When you can see a child in a positive light, it helps him to see himself that way, and to act more positively, too.
© ______ 2007, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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