At our free kinship educational group on Tuesday evening, we heard from a Compass Behavioral Health counselor about a trick to help with difficult behavior. The group found it so useful, I asked her to allow me to share it with you all here!
When working with children who are displaying difficult behaviors, a trick called “train your brain” may help. Many children in kinship and foster care have had their brain “programmed” with negative behaviors, choices, and body reactions, hurt and sadness. Some of this “programming” can even happen in utero (drug exposure, exposure to domestic violence). Many of these kids have not been taught to handle anger and sadness so they could make positive behavior choices. Some children don’t even know how to explain and define the emotions they are feeling! Nobody knew how to “train their brain” with positive/good emotions, reactions and behaviors.
The goal of “train your brain” is to help children change negative behavior into positive behavior through emotional identification, body awareness and calming techniques. The phrase “train your brain” gives kids a very simple clue to behavior you want them to change. Use the phrase “train your brain to…” and complete the sentence with whatever behavior you want to work on. For example, you can say to a child that is always leaning back dangerously in their chair, “I need you to train your brain to keep you chair on the ground.” Be consistent and say it every time you see the behavior. The phrase “train your brain” will become a cue for the child to stop and think about their next choice and reaction. When you see the child keeping the chair on the ground, reinforce their good work by saying, “WOW! I love how you trained your brain to keep the chair on the ground!” When you begin this with a child, it is best to start with just one simple behavior. When the child starts learning better choices, the wrong behaviors become less and less and more of your brain becomes strong with positive behaviors.
Another key part of this work is helping the child relax, breathe and notice their body in moments of calm. When children act out or throw tantrums we often tell them to “calm down, take deep breaths.” However, the child can not “calm down” in moments of stress if they don’t understand in their body what calm feels like or what deep breathing means. Breathing exercises, yoga stretching, and silly relaxation done regularly while the child is calm will help build those neural pathways and help them recognize when their body feels relaxed. This, combined with teaching emotion words and how it feels in the body, is the first step to helping children recognize a body reaction when it begins so they may understand the emotion that comes with that reaction.
Thanks to Compass for this great tool to try! Tell us in the comments- what behavior modification techniques have worked for you? How do you “train your own brain” to stay calm during stressful moments with your kids? What relaxation techniques do you rely on? I know I could use a few extra tips!
TIP: Make sure to join our MeetUp Group and come to upcoming educational groups with your kids for more information and support on raising kids with challenging behaviors! Bonus- the kids will have a workshop of their own and be led through relaxation exercises like the ones described above!
Ali, Foster Kinship Founder/Director