Helping Kids with Behaviors: Part 1

Playful REDIRECTIONs

One of the biggest reasons kids end up in counseling is because of fits. The knock-down, blow-out fit that takes parents, teachers, and caregivers by surprise. Because one minute they’re fine and the next, well…they’re not. They’ve flipped the switch. Nothing’s getting through and everyone is hanging on for dear life. Fits derail classroom learning, bedtime, and a very needed trip to the grocery store. So often, I hear parents and teachers ask, “what do we do about the fits?”

Fits are hard are I wish I had a perfect answer, but each kid is different and it’s often a lot of trial and error figuring out what works best for that kid. There are a few guidelines, though, that often direct the intervention.

  1. Playful Redirections
  2. Implement a regulation schedule
  3. Decode what you see
  4. Re-dos
  5. Co-regulate

We’ll talk about all of these interventions, but today I’m going to focus on playful redirections because last week I learned that squirrels aren’t allowed in the elevator and let me tell you, that’s the greatest rule I’ve ever heard.

I watched it all happen. The 5-year-old wanted more snacks, but mom said they were headed home for dinner, so he didn’t need to eat anymore snacks. Afterall, he had already had two. That’s when you saw the face: the eyes narrow, the lips squish together, and the arms cross.

This is it, people: the moment—meltdown or management.

Guess what?? It was management! Why? Because mom’s a pro. She didn’t fold. She had said no more snacks and she stuck to it. So what did she do instead? She got him laughing. There was no power struggle, only connection, followed by giggles.

Apparently, when this little one gets angry, he makes a squirrel face. He thinks the thought of him looking like a squirrel is funny, so when she asked if he was making a squirrel face, he smile and she caught it. She pulled the smile out of him, they giggled together, and she said, “no squirrels allowed in the elevator.” We all laughed. He put the snacks back in the basket and they left.

This mom handled the situation so beautifully. She didn’t respond with fear, scared of the next possible melt-down. She also didn’t respond with tightening the reigns, fighting for control. Those two responses are recipes for disaster. Appeasing the fit by giving in to what the child wants only reinforces the behavior is effective. Getting into a power struggle only perpetuates the problem. But a playful redirection is a perfect way to relieve the tension, connect with your kid, and help them get back on track. This little boy doesn’t like that he has fits. He genuinely wants to do better, but because of his early trauma, his brain has a really hard time regulating itself. He needed his mom’s help in that moment. He needed help calming his brain down and laughter is the best medicine. His mom came through for him. She was tuned in and knew exactly what he needed. She was attuned. It was such a sweet moment between that mom and her little squirrel. I love I got to see it.

If you are having a hard time thinking of the last time you laughed with your kid, start there. Re-establish that connection because if you’re really wanting behavioral change, it has to come from a foundation of relationship. I know when you have a kid who throws fits, it’s exhausting. It’s frustrating and often you feel like you’re at the end of your rope. It makes sense. Sometimes before you can laugh, you have to take a break. You have to take care of yourself and you’re allowed to want and need space from your child. What do you need in order to be able to connect with your kid again?

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