How to Help Children: The Basics

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In order to help children, you need to be able to see the world through their eyes and this relies on building a trusting relationship through communication.

Questions to Ask as you Investigate the Unwanted Behaviour

1. “What is this about?” I consider this to be the most important question that needs to be asked and unless you have a solid answer it is not worth going any farther. Look for the conflict and pick it apart until you have it down to its raw components. You need to find the purpose of the behaviour. The best person to answer this question is the child demonstrating the unwanted behaviour. The answer to this question isn’t just a recitation of events from the adult’s point of view. This will be you going elbow deep into the situations tenderest of orifices and seeing what lies at the heart of the beast. It’s about identifying causative factors and motivation, and about exposing the emotional core and the truth one finds there. You ask this question without any preconceived reasoning to make sure the answer is genuine. You ask questions using reflective listening and Ross Greene’s “drilling (digging) for information”. Not only is his latest book “Lost at School” a good reference so is his web page; Another good book that deals specifically with reflective listening is; “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk” by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlich (2012). Do not proceed unless you are certain you have the right answer. If you do think you have the right answer but you find any and all solutions quickly falling apart – stop what you are doing and revisit this question. You will find that reflective listening helps in develop a trusting relationship with the child. Trust me, if the child trusts you – then he or she will tell you what is happening in their world.

2.  “Why the Hell Am I Doing this?” This is what I call, “the give-a-shit factor”. Why do you care? Do you care? Why will anyone else care? This is the readiness stage of changing behaviour and often gets overlooked – yet it is the most important. Parents see problems and immediately see solutions, teachers want to help – they both want things to be better. The child must be intrinsically motivated to undertake the agreed upon change. In my interviews, children (and some parents) often complained that it was the teacher who decided what was going to change, how it was going to change and how soon it was going to be change.   What is being changed, how it is being changed and when it will be changed needs to come from the child. What the adults find concerning – the child might not care about and if he or she does not have the motivation, drive or courage to change the behaviour then it won’t change.

3. “Are You Ready?” You ask this before you start the planning process because of the time and commitment involved. Many people say they want to change or will do everything to help the change occur and don’t follow through. Do the brain work behind the process of change and think this whole thing through – start to finish. If you find you are putting up road blocks and procrastinating, then I don’t think you are ready and that is okay. You will be judged and you will judge yourself by what you do, so undertake this only when you are ready.

4. “Is This the Whole Story, Written his or her Way?” Do you hear the voice of the child? The voice of the parents? The voice of the teachers? The voice of the support system? The whole team needs to be part of changing the inappropriate behaviour to one that is appropriate and this cause and effect sequence of behaviour but most importantly it has to be child centered. Is the voice the child’s? Is the story his or hers? Are all the characters in play? Has anyone or anything been left out, or ignored?

5. “Does This Make Sense?” Do we all understand and can we see how the child’s perceptions are linked to his or her behaviour? Does it line up? All the players need to talk to each other to see if they are all in accord and be able to answer the following questions: What is the unwanted behaviour? Why is the child choosing to do that? What are the child’s needs, wants, and fears? What is the child trying to tell you? What does he or she think will help? (This should be a major component of the plan to change the behaviour at first. You want to teach the child problem solving skills. Even if you think the child’s ideas will never work you might consider letting them try it out for a short period of time and then evaluate it with them.) What do the parents think will help? What does the teacher want to try? What are some possible solutions and are they appropriate to this situation? Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Brainstorm!


Once you have all this information and everyone is in agreement, the behaviour plan is then ready to be made.

If you do it right the change from inappropriate to appropriate behaviour happens quickly. If the change is not made then you have to go back and find the missing pieces of information that are influencing the behaviour, you don’t have the whole picture.

I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them for me.

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