Dealing with challenging behaviors can be frustrating and overwhelming for parents and educators. It is helpful to remember that all behavior, whether positive or negative, serves a function. When we are able to analyze the function of a specific behavior, we can then begin to figure out what the child is trying to tell us with their behavior. Some common functions of challenging behaviors in children with Down syndrome include attention-seeking behaviors, escape/avoidance, and communication. Once we have a sense of what the function of a specific behavior is, we can begin to find positive replacement behaviors that better serve the child in getting his/her needs met.
Some tips for addressing challenging behavior
It is important to remain calm and neutral otherwise your reaction may unwillingly reinforce the behavior. While it can be difficult to do, remember that the behavior is not about you it is about something the child is trying to communicate. Respond but do NOT React.
1. Make sure your response to the behavior is calm and concise. Give a simple redirection and then move on.
2. Pick your battles: If the behavior is not unsafe then it is probably not a big deal. One way to think about this is to put behaviors in different “baskets” or categories.
– Basket 1: The behavior is unsafe-it needs to be addressed.
– Basket 2: The behavior is not unsafe but could be a problem – you have to make a judgment call about addressing it.
– Basket 3: The behavior is not unsafe or disruptive to others – consider not addressing it at all.
3. Use positive behavior interventions:
– Offer choices (helps in avoiding power struggles and allows children some control)
– Redirect (distract the child by redirecting to a preferred activity)
– Use “First-Then” strategy (“First put away 5 blocks then you can have computer time”).
4. Reinforce the behaviors you want to see by giving praise and attention for those behaviors and giving as little attention as possible to behaviors you are trying to decrease.
5. Keep behavior plans simple and user friendly: Sticker Chart, marble jar…
Remember, behavior is a function of communication. When we keep this in mind we can help children find positive, functional ways to communicate how they are feeling and get their needs met.