Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dealing With Emotions, Temper and Anger

Over the last year Gess has started expressing fear over things like heights, the dark and things at the doctor's office. Along with that she has also displayed some really defiant behavior. It is not the simple fear or behavioral issues that I became concerned about, every child goes through those. In her case, she would become so upset or distraught that she would simply become unreasonable and it just seemed like there was no way to talk her down. It was like she would just shut down and the episode would then spin out of control. Since this was all new behavior for her I was striving for a way to deal with it.

Typically if Gess started to disobey we could simply provide her with options and she would usually choose the option that would make her obey. Option 1 (raising first index finger) would be to obey and option 2 (raising my next finger) would be whatever the proper punishment for not obeying would entail. It even got the point where I didn't have to explain the options. I would raise each finger one at a time. She would point to the first, and then begin to obey. Life was so much easier when this worked!

There are actually still times when it does work. However, I had to find some way to address the really defiant behavior. To do this, I first tried to see if there might be a cause behind the rebellious behavior. For Gess I think the biggest reason is she wants more independence. The girl is almost 9 years old and she rightfully wants the freedom most 9 year olds have. However Gess still tends to wander off when not supervised so she is not really given the freedom to go and do things other her kids her age do. This makes it difficult for kids with special needs. They want a freedom they are not capable of having. It is understandable that would be frustrating and this knowledge helped us to implement some positive changes.

First off, I became very mindful of offering Gess as many positive choices as possible, and not only during the defiant behavior. When Gess is behaving appropriately I try to grant her as much responsibility or decision making as I can. From the little things like what do you want to eat, or where would you like to go, to which direction in the store should we head first, etc. No decision is too small. I also made sure that I started placing things like plates, cups and healthy snack foods in easy to reach places and offering other ways for her to be more independent.

I then began trying to take her feelings into account when making my decisions as well. If I needed to run to the store and she was playing a game, I would start giving her a 5 minute warning in which I actually set a timer. That way she knew in 5 minutes we had to leave. That helped tremendously as she would willingly quit when the timer went off. Warnings at the park before time to leave are also helpful. Granted, I know there are times when this is not doable, sometimes I have to leave right away, but I find that she is more willing to obey when most of the time her interests are respected.

Now that we had the positive reinforcements in place, we were ready to tackle the instances when the bad behavior occurred. The thing I wanted most was for Gess to remain reasonable. I think she gets frustrated because she does not think we know or understand how she actually feels. So I made a Velcro board in which she could learn to 1) explain to us how she felt and then 2) choose to express those feelings in an appropriate manner.

I found some good emotion cards to use at Do2Learn. I then tried to think up some good choices for Gess to make in response to those emotions and put them on another card. I then made one final card that said:
I am __________

I need to ___________

Now she could choose which emotion she felt and which option she would choose. We would then talk about how to do that.

So far this has really been working great! I think now that Gess understands she can tell us what is wrong, she loses much of the initial frustration from the incident. The hard part is to come up with the choices that might best fit the situation. We have already seen such an improvement from this that we hardly have to actually use it. Now we simply ask Gess what is wrong and cue her to say "I am..." and let her finish the sentence. Then we ask her "what do you need to do to?" She will then say something like "I need to calm down." So we walk her through how to do that, like going to sit in her room or somewhere else that is quiet until she calms down.

Other options are I need a hug, I need to cry, I need be alone, I need to be with you, I need to talk about it, and so forth.

I also have positive behavior options and randomly do the board when she is in a good mood. This way this does not turn into a punishment that she simply chooses to shut down from. I have the emotions like happy, pleased and excited for which I use choice options like I need a high five or I need to cheer. So far this has been quite successful. I am sure it is not the answer to all of our behavioral issues but it certainly seems like a great tool to use to help a child learn some appropriate ways to deal with their emotions.


Tara said...

I love it! I'm stealing this to use with my typically developing 5yo with behavioral issues.

Jenna B. said...

I just love reading about how you deal with your challenges, it really inspires me with my daughter. She goes through fits of rage on a daily basis, it's tough!

I also wanted to let you know how much I love your blog so I chose you for a "lovely blog award". Just visit my blog to pick it up. :)

Donna said...

I am so glad I read this. I was just trying to figure out what to do...I'm going to give this a try...thank you for posting!

Alexis F said...

These sound like some of the strategies we've used with our daughter who has generalized anxiety disorder. I'm glad you've found something that works!


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