What do I do when children’s behaviour is aggressive?

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Children pushing children – She just pushed another child

If this is a younger child, we would go over to the child, get down to their height and say calmly and with a soft voice. “Hands down” (you may need to physically guide them down).

“Be gentle with our friends”. Then we redirect, let’s push the bike

Please remember, with all new strategies it may take practice and time. You may need to practice for weeks.

Aggressive older behaviours – Go back in time

Some children will demonstrate aggressive behaviours. These may be verbal or non‐ verbal.

In this situation there is not much you can do to stop it other than letting it burn out.

It is important to respond quickly to ensure the safety of the child, other children, staff and visitors. Remove all the children away from the aggressor if you can. When responding to aggressive behaviours, we must aim to:

  • Comfort the victim of the aggressive behaviour
  • COMFORT THE CHILD WHO HAS BEEN AGGRESSIVE

It may take up to 20 minutes for the child to be able to reason with you and talk after the outburst. The neocortex in the brain has shut down and raw emotions are controlling the behaviour at this point in time. Be patient and go in with a big bundle of love, care and emotional support.

Sometimes we jump in and accuse the child of behaving in a way that is inappropriate. For example, a child hits another child. We see the victim and automatically blame the other child. What is worse we say things like “get over here now Max. We need to talk about your behaviour” or “what have you done now Max?”

A better way to deal with these situations is to reverse time.

Step 1 Ensure the victim is okay and doesn’t require medical attention.

Step 2 Go over to the aggressive child calmly and say “(Child’s name)  can you tell me what happened?”

Step 3 Let the child tell their version of events

Step 4 Go back in time and show the child another way of dealing with the situation.

What is the best way to talk to children when their behaviour is challenging you? Respond but don’t react.

If you’re feeling really challenged, count to three to settle yourself, Try not to shout, you will lose all credibility with a child if you shout and they will think they have won because they now know how to press your buttons for a reaction. You need to be the best role model and teach the behaviours you want to see.

If you feel like you are about to shout, turn around, take a deep breathe in slowly turn back and start talking quietly, assertively. This works really well, remember the time when your mother was really really angry and you knew it was going to bad because she went quiet? You knew it was bad, and so will children, the calmer you are the more serious they know it will be. We go into a lot more detail later with children who are having a meltdown, but this example is pre meltdown children.

Go to the child, touch and gain eye contact and attention, then say, ‘Listen .. .’ Look into the child’s eyes as you set boundaries. This will help you to remain focused and not fly into a rage. Using the word ‘Listen’ before you start any sentence with a child is a good strategy to get them focused about what you are going to say.

Remember, if the child behaves appropriately, always praise: ‘Good listening!’

You need to calmly stand your ground and quietly but firmly repeat your request up to three times. Ignore protests, and repeat your request. Give children time to process the request and your serious demeanour.

Counting down from ten to one can help everyone settle, and can be a game to play, giving a child time to respond to the request.

Practice straightening your shoulders and spine, opening your chest (your heart) to be lovingly assertive, just and fair.

Choose a word to signal a change is required. It may be ‘Listen’ (as discussed earlier), ‘Stop’, or when older, ‘Not appropriate’, before explaining the appropriate behaviour. If this is done with consistency, the child will get the message.

Talk with your other educators and see if you can follow the same process. If not do it your way and the others will follow what works.

Meltdowns – Sometime the best strategy is to walk away

When a meltdown occurs walk away and get the other children to follow you. You need to ensure the safety of the other children, yourself and other educators first. When a child is having a meltdown there is very little you can at the peak of the meltdown, as the child’s thinking and reasoning part of their brain has completely closed down.

When they come out of the meltdown start describing what emotions you saw coming from the child.

“I could see you were very angry, very distressed, wait with long pausing before going on, I could see you not happy”.

 “When you are ready, I’m here for you and you can come and tell me how you felt so we can work out what we can do”.


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