We’ve all heard that term “temperamental” thrown around when discussing children. It typically has a negative connotation and is associated with behavior problems. Temperament is actually a set of inborn traits that characterize one’s behavior and personality. Some indicators of this would be sensory sensitivity, easily overwhelmed, rapid or intense mood swings, difficulty calming down, incredibly focused or easily distracted, difficulty with transitions or needing to know the plan for the day as soon as they wake up!
Based on my experience in clinical practice, here is a list of the top ten strategies I have found for parents encountering temperamental children.
1. Have a clear, well established behavior plan. This is so important. These children need to know exactly what to expect if they choose to have bad behavior. If you do not have a behavior plan I would suggest creating one or working with a professional to develop one for your family.
2. Consistency is key. You must be consistent with this plan at ALL times. This means no allowing the child to manipulate, debate, dispute, or negotiate.
3. Never tell the child to do something if you are not fully prepared to give them a consequence if they don’t do it. We call this task demands. You should always follow through with whatever it is you tell them to do. This may sound easy but it’s actually not. If you are not prepared to implement a consequence then I would suggest not placing the demand at all. Think of all the times you are out in public and you ask your child to do something and end up not following through because you don’t want to make a bigger scene. In this situation you must evaluate whether or not you even want to give the demand.
4. Incorporate the child in the behavior planning process. For example, in my home the child is allowed to choose her privileges for the week. She works to earn the privileges she chooses that week and then the next week is able to choose new ones. This keeps children feeling as though they have skin in the game and at control over their own outcomes.
5. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. This is such an important component of disciplining temperamental children. Children will go through multiple stages of behavior before the eventually hit their extinction burst (the worst behavior you’ll see before it gets better). Ignoring will need to be written into your behavior plan and used when indicated in the plan. For example, during timeout session a parent is to ignore ALL behaviors unless at child is trying to harm themselves or someone else. At this point you would just remove them from that particular situation or environment without any engagement and follow through with the time out.
6. Know how to do a correct timeout. Timeout is useless an ineffective if you are doing it the wrong way!
7.Use modeling of your own behaviors in front of your children. Let’s say anything cant set your child off. She is trying to put on her sweater and is having a difficult time get her arms in the right way and her head through the hole. She explodes and has a tantrum due to low frustration tolerance. When you begin to have difficulty putting on a item of clothing, in front of your child, begin to to say something like this, “I am having a really hard time getting my sweater on. I think I am going to breathe deeply and try to relax. If that doesn’t work I think I’ll sit down and wait for 10 seconds.”
8. Set a strict limit to how many times you will ask you child to do something, I say 2. This is crucial. Your child needs to know that if he/she does not comply and you get to the number 3, they have earned a consequence. They must comply before you say 3 or they will be disciplined according to the behavior plan.
9. Use feeling identification regularly. If the child is sharing a feeling or thoughts about a particular event that occurred, use reflective listening to indicate a feeling word. For example: Child: Today my friend hit me with a ball. She told me she didn’t like me anymore. Parent: What did that make you feel like? Child: I don’t know. Bad. Parent: It sounds like that probably hurt your feelings and made you feel a little sad and confused. You do this to make them feel heard and understood!
10. Understand your own triggers, pet peeves, and stressors. As a parent we are not always equipment with the personality to best deal with our children. Being mindful and self-aware of our own struggles will allow up to implement a behavior plan with these in mind.