Vol. 16, No. 1 • November 2011

Learn More about Managing Child Behaviors

by Tiffany Price, MSW

Helping children manage their behaviors can be one of a parent’s toughest jobs.

Making friends, using talents in school, and having positive experiences with family members are important for children, so when behavior gets in the way of a child’s abilities to succeed in these areas we do everything we can think of to help. Sometimes we see hopeful changes. At other times we can’t see progress. We may even get to a point where we feel overwhelmed by the weight of power struggles or safety issues.

One of the keys to knowing how to prevent and respond to problem behavior is figuring out the source of the behavior. It’s difficult to identify a strategy until we understand something about the need a child is expressing through his behavior.

Some behavior falls within a range of what’s typical for children of a certain developmental age and can be addressed through general parenting strategies such as communication skill-building, increased supervision, and positive reinforcement. In other cases, factors such as a history of trauma, sensory issues (sensory overload or under-stimulation), or mental health issues can contribute to concerning behavior and require additional parenting strategies.

When you want to do the best for a child, yourself, and your family, where can you turn for information and guidance?

Basic Local Resources

  • Foster care licensing and placement agencies or local foster parent support groups may offer behavior management workshops based on interest and available resources.
  • Pediatric offices may periodically offer workshops for parents on behavior-related topics. When offered, there is frequently a charge for these workshops.
  • The North Carolina Foster and Adoptive Parent Association’s (NCFAPA) Annual Conference typically includes workshops that help foster parents understand and respond to challenging behavior.

More Advanced Resources
Becoming a Therapeutic Foster Parent is a 10-hour course developed by the NC Division of Social Services and offered by a number of agencies throughout North Carolina who supervise therapeutic foster parents. Managing behaviors and safety planning are prominent training topics. Other agencies use Together Facing the Challenge or other training to help therapeutic foster parents gain skills in behavior management.

Books and Internet Resources
There are many books and websites devoted to behavior management. Here are just a few to get you started in your search for helpful material.

FosterParentCollege.com offers more than a dozen online behavior management courses. The courses educate parents on the clinical aspects of various behavior problems and provide instruction on interventions for behaviors such as anger outbursts, sleep problems, running away, and self-harm. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse gives Foster Parent College a scientific rating of 3, indicating that there is promising research evidence about the effectiveness of its training.

Off-Road Parenting, a handbook by Caesar Pacifici, Patricia Chamberlain, and Lee White, includes a DVD that presents realistic family stories and lets viewers select ages of children and pathways for a situation’s outcome. Many of the scenarios highlight foster families and cover a range of parenting techniques from positive reinforcement, to time out, to behavior contracts. The handbook reinforces the strategies and takes a light-hearted look at parenting challenges through cartoon illustrations.

Extreme Off Road Parenting, is an interactive DVD and discussion guide for parents of young children with temper tantrums. It is recommended for parents who have tried their best, who have used good parenting approaches, but who find their children continue to tantrum, explode, and throw fits. It can be ordered from www.SocialLearning.com.

Parenting Wisely (PAW), a self-administered, highly interactive CD ROM-based program, teaches parents and children (aged 9-18) skills to improve their relationships and decrease conflict through support and behavior management. SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices lists Parenting Wisely on its website. For more information visit http://www.familyworksinc.com.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene explains why some children have intense outbursts and aggression and gives parents strategies to help children improve communication, self-regulation, and problem-solving.

Your Defiant Teen—10 Steps to Resolve Conflict and Rebuild Your Relationship offers hope for parents who find themselves stuck in standoffs with their teen. Authors Russell Barkley and Arthur Robin provide practical information and numerous checklists and worksheets that give parents an opportunity to practice and teach problem-solving skills.

Raising a Sensory Smart Child addresses the unique challenges of parenting a child or teen with sensory integration issues. Co-written by occupational therapist Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske, the parent of a child with sensory integration issues, this book gives practical, down-to-earth information on behavior management strategies as well as encouragement for parents.

Recognizing and Coping with Signs of Distress in Young Children, a tip sheet, explains children’s stress responses and identifies supportive techniques parents can use to help a child de-escalate challenging behavior and safely recover from heightened distress. You can find it online at http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ceed/publications/tipsheets/preschool/beamsignsofdistress.pdf.

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning is a site that offers much helpful information for the parents of young children, including tip sheets on Responding to Your Child's Bite, Teaching Your Child about Feelings, and Supporting Your Child’s Relationship Building Skills. You can find it online at: http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/family.html.

Ask other foster parents, your child’s social worker, school counselor, mental health professional or members of the child and family team for additional resources they recommend.

Keep in mind that each child is unique, and it may take many tries with different approaches to find what works best.

Copyright 2011 Jordan Institute for Families