“Digging Deeper – Looking Beyond Behavior to Its Root Causes,” by Sarah Merrill, M.S. and Amy Hunter LICSW, Zero to Three. (Friday, March 19, Addressing Challenging Behavior Conference, Clearwater Beach, Florida)
I wanted to learn more about how to observe a child’s challenging behavior and gather information to change the situation – this workshop provided insight, knowledge, and materials to help with this. Here are some basic points, to whet your appetite . . . and then you can go exploring, too! (Hopefully I’ve provided enough links.)
According to Sarah Merrill and Amy Hunter, if you want to resolve a child’s challenging behavior, you must:
1. Watch. 2. Ask. 3. Adapt.
What do they mean?
Plan a time to observe and watch the child. Consider:
• what happened just before the behavior?
• what happens after or as a result of the behavior?
• do the consequences reward or encourage the behavior?
• how are YOU, the caregiver, feeling?
• what exactly does the child see? hear? feel? smell?
They suggested that teachers carry index cards with them, in order to be more intentional in their note-taking about specific events. Ideally, you will have a colleague/outside observer in, to do the note-taking for you.
A brief vignette – we watched a video of a father dropping off his 2 year old child at day care. Every training participant took observation notes on what they saw in the sad, difficult interaction. Then, we shared all the different things we noted. I was fascinated and surprised by how many concrete observations were made by others but not by me – and I consider myself a very good observer. Note to self: even though I am watching the behavior, I don’t see everything. I don’t know it all.
This is a good thing to keep in mind for step 2,
Ask what the behavior means to:
• the child
• family members
• other children
• other caring adults
It is a good idea to ask these as “I wonder” statements, recognizing that you don’t have all the answers. For our particular video, the Asks were:
• I wonder why was the caregiver so abrupt? I wonder if the caregiver has a lot on her mind? I wonder if the caregiver has a lot to juggle at one time?
• I wonder if drop off is always a problem? I wonder if Dad usually drops off? I wonder if it is hard for Dad to leave his child?
• I wonder what’s the “take” of the other kids when she cries? I wonder why she had to say goodbye to her Dad away from the other children at the center?
• I wonder how long she is sad?
• I wonder if there is something that could be changed in the environment? I wonder if you could bring her to a friend before leaving? I wonder if Dad could read her a book, sing her a song?
• I wonder if she might be hungry? I wonder if she is tired?
• I wonder if something is different at home?
On and on, our list of questions grew. I saw how invaluable it was to work with others, to get input from colleagues and the parents. “I wonder?” (Because we simply don’t know.)
And then you are at Step 3:
Make a plan to change something about the situation, and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t improve, try something else. Adapt.
I think we know – there are no simple solutions to these challenging behaviors. According to the a handout from the workshop by the Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), there are four factors to every child’s behavior, interlocking into a puzzle for you to figure out:
- the child and his/her development/temperament,
- the environment,
- the caregiver, and
- the family/life circumstances.
I’ll conclude with a nice quote from the workshop:
“Every child is “special needs” – every child has need of an individualized plan!”
One final note - this “Digging Deeper” lesson is available on-line.)