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Challenging Behavior in Young Children
 
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Challenging Behavior in Young Children

 

    Excerpts
   
   

From the Introduction

Teaching today is highly demanding. However, it is worth whatever time and effort it takes to build a relationship with every child, teach social and emotional skills, and develop a caring, inclusive classroom environment. In the long run, dedicating a few minutes a day to preventing challenging behavior and creating opportunities for all children to succeed actually saves time and enables them to learn not only appropriate behavior but also the content of the curriculum.

By developing the ability to help children with challenging behavior, you are also helping the other children in the group, who are often frightened or excited and learn to become bystanders, accept the role of victim, or join in the aggressive behavior. When you are prepared, all the children will feel safe, and the difficult behavior will be less severe, less frequent, and less contagious.

Then it becomes possible to make the commitment that everyone who works with children wants to be able to make: to welcome and help each child in your class. You, too, will benefit as you acquire competence and confidence, gain pride and satisfaction in your job, and feel more positive about the children you spend many hours with each day.

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 2: Risk Factors

Executive functions 
Many children with challenging behavior have executive functions that don’t work properly. This catchall phrase encompasses a series of interdependent skills that enable children to regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions and perform any goal-directed activity, such as entering a game of hospital in the dramatic play corner. There are three basic groups of executive functions (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2011):

  • Working memory, which enables us to keep information in our minds for a short time while we work with it
  • Cognitive or mental flexibility, which allows us to adjust to new information and demands
  • Inhibitory control, also called effortful control, self-regulation, cognitive control, and delaying gratification, which gives us the ability to control our impulses and think before we act

Executive functions emerge at the end of the first year of life as children start to inhibit certain responses. At about 2 years they can begin to use rules to guide their behavior, and from 3 to 5 years their ability to self-regulate gets better and better (Zelazo, 2010b). By the age of 5, they can solve problems, shift their attention, suppress inappropriate responses, and carry out plans that require several steps (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2011).

But a threatening or adverse environment can impair the development of the executive functions, and when they are out of kilter, children have trouble staying focused and controlling their behavior (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2011). Children with autism and ADHD have weak executive functions (Zelazo, 2010a).

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 3: Resilience

What makes resilience possible? 
Initially, resilience researchers focused on identifying people who seemed to have “natural” resilience, and they created a striking portrait of a child who appeared unscathed from beneath a tall stack of risk factors. But in recent years, thinking about resilience has shifted. Researchers now believe that although a child’s personality plays a role in promoting resilience, his environment—his family, school, community, and other external resources—is just as crucial, if not more so (Kim-Cohen & Turkewitz, 2012), and in fact makes it possible for his own resources to emerge.

The more adversity a child encounters, the more his ability to bounce back depends on the quality of the environment and the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources available to him (Ungar, Ghazinour, & Richter, 2013). Therefore, the first step in fostering resilience is to ensure that children have the resources and support necessary for their well-being (Masten, 2013). In other words, we should be asking how the school can adapt to the child, not how the child can adapt to the school (Ungar et al., 2013).

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From Chapter 4: Behavior and the Brain

How does stress influence the young brain? 
The ability to cope with a threatening or frightening situation is essential to survival (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2005), and when a threat appears the brain instantly takes charge. It perceives the threat, judges its seriousness, decides how to respond, and sets the stress system in motion, all without our being aware of it (McEwen, 2012).

Each of us has a unique response to stress based on our genetics, experience, and developmental history (McEwen, 2012). Most children have a well-functioning stress system, and in the presence of threat it roars into action, getting them ready to freeze, fight, or flee. As the steroid hormone cortisol floods the brain, a whole cascade of changes takes place to prepare body and brain for the immediate threat and simultaneously shuts down activities that in ordinary times ensure long-term survival. When the threat recedes, cortisol levels and other systems return to normal.

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 5: Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

How does a secure attachment to a teacher protect a child?
A relationship with a supportive adult can play a key role in building children’s resilience (Werner, 2000). This special person can provide a child with all that a secure attachment entails: the chance to learn that other people can be trusted, to regard himself as a valuable human being worthy of love and respect, and to adjust his internal working models to embrace this new, more positive view of the world (Howes & Ritchie, 1999).

Most children become attached to more than one person (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1969/1982), and because each attachment relationship is unique and depends on the way the adult responds to the child (van IJzendoorn & DeWolff, 1997), a relationship with you can become an important opportunity, providing a secure base for exploration, a safe haven when a child is upset, threatened, or afraid, and interactions that help him regulate his emotions (Sabol & Pianta, 2012).

A close relationship with a teacher brings children other “strong and persistent” benefits (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). They like school more, participate more actively in the classroom, and perform better academically (Ladd & Burgess, 2001; Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004). They get along well with their classmates, engage in more complex play, have better social skills, and exert more control over their emotions (Howes & Ritchie, 2002; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001). Above all, their behavior is less challenging and aggressive (Merritt, Wanless, Rimm-Kaufman, Cameron, & Pough, 2012), possibly because the relationship may prevent the expression of a gene that leads to aggressive behavior (Brendgen et al., 2011).

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 6: Opening the Culture Door

The dominant culture
Despite our changing population, the White European American culture remains dominant in the United States, and people who belong to it often have the mistaken idea that they don’t have a culture. That’s because their way of thinking shapes our society and they’re surrounded by people who think the way they do. For the same reason, they know less about other people’s cultures, whereas people who belong to a less powerful culture have to learn more about the dominant culture—it’s a matter of survival for them (Tatum, 1997).

But White European Americans are cultural beings, too, and our culture governs our assumptions, perceptions, and behaviors. If we can’t see the role our culture plays in our own lives, it’s hard to understand another’s culture and hard to recognize the skills, knowledge, and resources that children of other cultures bring from their homes and communities (Souto-Manning, 2013).

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 7: Preventing Challenging Behavior: The Social Climate

What is the teacher’s role in the social climate? 
When it comes to establishing the social climate, teachers set the stage and play the lead. They are the primary role models, teaching by everything they say and do. Whether they’re responding to one child or several, their words and actions, large and small, tell each child about the power, ability, and worth of everyone in the classroom (Goleman, 2005).

A teacher’s consistent awareness of children’s needs and feelings, her caring, helpful behavior, and her high expectations—that a child has, or can develop, the skills to make a friend or understand the math concept—set a powerful example and build a positive social climate.

Children also notice how their teachers behave with colleagues, administrators, bus drivers, janitors, and parents. When the adults work as a team, share resources, and help each other, the children soak up their cooperative spirit; when there’s tension and acrimony, that’s contagious, too. Research-based proven-effective programs such as Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Response to Intervention (RTI), Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), and Second Step advocate a whole-school approach for exactly this reason.

Although an intervention in a single classroom can be effective, its impact increases when children see that the entire school community values prosocial, nonviolent, cooperative interaction and problem solving (Thornton, Craft, Dahlberg, Lynch, & Baer, 2000).

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 11: The Inclusive Classroom

Does disability play a role in challenging behavior? 
Having a disability doesn’t mean that a child will have challenging behavior. But children with disabilities frequently exhibit more behavior and social problems and are more likely to be rejected than their peers who do not have disabilities (Haager & Vaughn, 1995; Odom, Zercher, Marquart, Sandall, & Wolfberg, 2002).

Children with common or high-incidence disabilities—learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mild cognitive disabilities, and emotional disturbance, as well as those with ADHD—are at particular risk. So are children with autism (Mazurek, Kanne, & Wodka, 2013).

Children’s challenging behavior is often their disability talking. For example, a child with a speech or language impairment who has trouble expressing his needs in words may express them with inappropriate behavior instead. But it is important to remember that virtually all children with challenging behavior—including those with disabilities—communicate through their behavior. For this reason, when a child with a disability is involved, everything you know about addressing challenging behavior applies.

All the tools at your disposal—a warm relationship with the child and family; an inclusive social climate and physical space; classroom procedures and teaching strategies that prevent challenging behavior; and effective techniques for responding to it—become indispensable.

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

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From Chapter 13: Bullying

The importance of climate   
Even in preschool, different classrooms have significantly different levels of bullying (Hanish, Hill, Gosney, Fabes, & Martin, 2011). This is the result of classroom climate—the quality and character of school life based on patterns of people’s experiences (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009)—and its influence is immense. It is particularly important in early childhood and elementary school when children are developing their identity and establishing peer relationships (Farmer et al., 2010).

Teachers bear the primary responsibility for creating and maintaining classroom climate. As leaders and role models whose actions and attitudes affect every child in the group, they communicate expectations for children’s behavior.

If a teacher demonstrates through her interactions with the children how to be caring, supportive, respectful, trustworthy, fair, inclusive, and empathetic, if she shows what relationships should be like and how to resolve conflict peacefully (Kindermann, 2011), the children will feel safe and connected to their classroom community, the climate will be positive and egalitarian, and the classroom norms will be prosocial (Guerra et al., 2011).

The less hierarchical the social structure and the more positive and inclusive the climate, the less bullying there will be and the greater the likelihood that children will seek help if they’re being bullied (Gest & Rodkin, 2011).

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact jud...@challengingbehavior.com.

Click here to see our blog post at
www.childrenwithchallengingbehavior.com
about how to intervene in a bullying situation:

What to Do When You See Bullying: A Practical Guide


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