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Behavioural Support for Children and Families

For some the word discipline holds negative connotations, however, discipline is often more about assisting your child in learning how to behave in different situations and helping them to understand what is and is not an appropriate or safe way to behave.

There are many discipline strategies that are positive (positive behaviour management) when they are built on empathy, active listening, tuition, and guiding behaviours towards what is both safe and socially acceptable. While all children have growing personalities, which at times can be challenging, but when a child has a neurodevelopmental disorder there may be additional factors to consider for understanding their strong emotional reactions or how they behave. When viewed in isolation the emotions and behaviours can be hard to understand; however, understanding a child’s temperament, their communication abilities and sensory differences can provide some helpful clues in establishing more effective ways to assist a young person to learn and grow.

Understanding temperament: A child’s temperament can be understood as their own personal way of observing, approaching, and the interacting / reacting to their world. A child’s innate temperament is said to be influenced by nine temperament traits: sensory sensitivities, attention-span, level of distractability, mood, intensity, adaptability, reactivity, regularity, activity – as initially determined by researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess. A simplified way of understanding a child’s temperament can be that they are an “easy child”, “slow to warm up or shy”, or the “difficult or challenging child”. By understanding a child’s particular temperament, a parent is better able to adapt their parenting and behavioural interventions to suit their child and to best support them in situations that they may otherwise find challenging. Together you can learn to manage elevated feelings and handle new a challenging situations, for example, large groups, new social situations, or changes in routine.

Understanding social norms & rules of play at different ages: Interacting with same-aged peers doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all children but in time, this can be learnt. Social skills for children include play-based skills, communication, emotional and problem-solving skills. When well developed, social skills help children navigate how to act in different social situations, forming friendships, developing new hobbies and interests, develop a sense of belonging within a community, and nurtures identity and healthy mental-health. For children that are continuing to learn age-appropriate social skills, practising play in safe an calm environments, use of praise to encourage positive and inclusive play, pre-learning through social stories, modelling, and the use of visual-supports.

Differences in communication skills: Communication can at times be difficult for children who are neurodiverse. Some children may have language delays, while others may have difficulty understanding or using spoken language, others may have difficulty with the nuances of language as they may be more literal in their expression and understanding of language. Speech and language support or the use of augmentative and alternative communication can assist. Augmentative and alternative communication systems pair tasks, actions or objects with pictures or hand signs; for instance, a bottle of water or drinking is paired with a sign for water / drinking. This can be an effective way to assist a child with early language development, particularly when a child respond to material that is presented visually.

Sensory differences: Is when an individual is overly sensitive (or under-sensitive) to noise, crowds, temperature, touch, smell, and taste; children with such sensitivities may try to avoid these sensory experiences. Being overly-sensitive or under-sensitive means that an individual will either take in too much or too little sensory information from their environment which can be an overwhelming, frightening or even painful experience. Typically developing children will also have sensitivities as they learn about the world around them but typically they will grow out of their sensitivities, but when children continue to be impacted by their sensory problems this can begin to impact on family life, education and play activities. For instance, if a child that is sensitive to noise the family may choose to attend calmer and quieter playgrounds or quieter times of the day and week.

With consideration of a child’s whole path to development, parents and caregivers are better able to assist a child where they may show more challenging behaviours, but rather this can be better understood as an area for skills development, reactivity to sensory overwhelm, amongst other complexities of the human condition. There are certainly times when “discipline” may be required, there may be times when everyone needs to take a short breather, there may also be times when an intervention is required, and taking a more understanding approach can ultimately be a more effective way to support a young person’s wellbeing and growth.


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