Children’s ‘Problem Behavior’

How we approach what we take to be children’s problem behavior can spell the difference between raising and teaching poorly vs. raising and teaching well. Time and again, we see the sad results of managing problem behaviors  in coercive, culturally insensitive, or otherwise negative ways — results ranging from children distancing themselves from their families and schools to full-fledged psychiatric disorders.  Happily, there is a great deal of research and writing on positive approaches that provide for positive ways to manage problem behaviors, ways focused on preserving relationships and managing dilemmas.  And happily, there is a great deal of wisdom and examples to draw from that teach us how to prevent problem behaviors from occurring in the first place.

In my writing about children’s problem behavior, I have worked to explain four main ideas about managing problem behavior.  The first is that individual methods for managing problem behavior do not define overall approaches to problem behavior.  Overall approaches are defined by what is emphasized, by what values are prioritized, and by theories of change. And there are many, very valuable approaches that need to be considered, including behavioral, ecological, family systems, socio-cultural, and a number of other approaches that put prevention and positive methods at the forefront.

The second main idea is that any positive approach is apt to see managing behavior problems in terms of managing dilemmas — particularly the dilemma between being effective for the short-term vs. being effective for the long-term.  This second main idea encourages us to think in terms of embracing the complexity.

The third main idea is that methods for managing are best used after a period of creating a positive relationship between oneself and a child (or group of children). Put another way, children have to care about their relationship to us if they are to momentarily give up a bit of their autonomy in order to cooperate and share control with us.

The fourth main idea is that it is best to think in terms of ‘points of entry’ when assessing what to do about a particular child or group — with more points of entry needing to be addressed the more serious the problem behavior. No one method is likely to fix all. Again, the theme and message is to embrace the complexity.

All four of these main ideas are covered in my two textbooks on this subject and in the encyclopedia of classroom management that I edited.

Here are a couple of examples of my  writing about children’s problem behaviors, short articles written for the Tufts Magazine. You can read them by clicking on the following links:

Judgment Still Counts:

Not Enough B.F. Skinners: