Skills Training for Struggling Kids
Promoting Your Child's Behavioral, Emotional, Academic, and Social Development
By Michael L. Bloomquist
The Guilford Press Copyright © 2013 The Guilford Press
All rights reserved.
The Struggling Child
Understanding Your Child's Behavioral–Emotional Problems
Child difficulties like disrupting the classroom, arguing with adults, fighting with siblings, moodiness, excessive worrying, rejection by peers, and/or underachieving in school, to name just a few, are indicators of behavioral–emotional problems. Such behaviors and/or emotional symptoms can harm your child's functioning in everyday life, which in turn stresses you out and probably has a negative effect on family life. You are likely reading this book and perhaps working with a practitioner due to similar concerns and out of a desire to get your child and family back on track.
To do that you need to develop a specific plan of action that is exactly what your son or daughter needs to be successful (see Chapter 2). But first you have to understand your child's behavioral–emotional problems and begin thinking of them from a developmental point of view.
Understanding Your Child's Behavioral–Emotional Problems
Almost all children demonstrate the problems described in this section, to some extent. It is the frequency and magnitude of the problems that make the difference between a normal bump in the road and something to be concerned about. For example, habitual defiance is much more frequent than average and is a concern. A child who throws a chair while being defiant is demonstrating a problem behavior of much greater magnitude than run-of-the-mill talking back. Determining whether a child has crossed the line in frequency and magnitude for a particular problem is, unfortunately, a judgment call that is tough for many parents to make. This is where a qualified practitioner can help. Experienced practitioners have seen many children with problems and are also well versed in the symptoms of behavioral-emotional problems and when they should be addressed.
Following is a list of common characteristics of children that are problematic when their frequency and magnitude are high:
Hyperactivity—can't sit still and is constantly in motion.
Impulsivity—fails to think before acting, exhibits behavior such as blurting out, shoving in line, or even stealing something tempting.
Inattention—is distracted, has difficulty focusing, and demonstrates low effort and motivation to complete tasks and stay focused.
Defiance—argues with or disregards adult directives.
Rule-violating behavior—violates commonly accepted standards of behavior such as breaking curfew, stealing, vandalizing, running away from home, skipping school.
Aggression—displays actions that harm or intimidate another—physical aggression, like punching, hitting, and kicking, or relational aggression, like spreading rumors or excluding someone from a group—both of which can be expressed as reactive (spur of the moment) or proactive (planned).
Moodiness—exhibits depression-like sadness, discouragement, and hopelessness; and/or euphoric excitability, mania, or irritability.
Anxiety—worries, is physically tense, and avoids certain places, people, or events because of nervousness.
Emotionally overreactive—acts aroused, agitated, and "ready for action."
Emotionally underreactive—acts calm, with low guilt and/or concern for others (sometimes with lower empathy).
Underachievement—experiences delays in reading, arithmetic, written language, and other areas of academic proficiency.
Social difficulties—has a hard time with friends and peer interactions, possibly including being socially troublesome to others and/or withdrawn and shy.
These behavioral–emotional problems can all range from mild to severe, and some children may have more than one of them. It is unfortunately all too common that a child starts out with one or two of these problems, which lead to setbacks in everyday life, and then they "snowball," creating more problems over time. Although there are gender differences in the incidence of some of these problems, both boys and girls can exhibit any of them.
These behavioral–emotional problems may be the reasons you have sought assistance for your child, as they are for many parents. More often than not, these problems end up being the "target" of an intervention. It's essential, though, that you accurately identify the problems your child is experiencing before deciding what kind of help he or she needs. Here too a practitioner can help guide you.
Understanding Your Child's Developmental Struggles
The underlying premise of the "Struggling Kids" program is that a child with behavioral–emotional problems like the ones listed above is struggling with psychological development. That is, the child is behind in accumulating typical skills, or competencies, in the behavioral, social, emotional, and academic arenas. This is why the "Struggling Kids" program focuses on skills building: To be successful, the struggling child needs to be given the ability to master tasks that are part of typical child development.
To get a better idea of where your child stands in psychological development, review the Child Psychological Development chart. Compare the struggling and successful child in each area. Try to pinpoint your child's developmental progress. Is your child behind and struggling or on track and successful? Keep in mind that although your child may be at a certain chronological age (e.g., elementary school age), he or she may be at a younger developmental age (e.g., preschool), and if so, that means that your child is behind. If you're not sure where your child fits on the developmental path for any domain, try to think of examples of your child's behavior that prompt you to say that your child is struggling; a practitioner can guide you, if you need additional expertise in this area.
Because children don't grow up in a vacuum, it's important to take into account how the parent and family contribute to a child's development. In this book the well-being of the parent and family are considered so that the plan can also address any stress-related problems within the family that might influence the child. Therefore, you need to know if you as a parent or your family as a unit is meeting the challenges of everyday family life. Are you stressed or coping? See the Parent and Family Well-Being chart to get a better idea.
Knowing the Power of Protective Factors
Many parents wonder what causes developmental struggles in a child and whether anything can be done to make things better. A combination of genetic vulnerabilities and environmental stresses causes a child's psychological developmental struggles. As a result of genetic and environmental influences, the central nervous system of a struggling child may be different from that of a successful child.
Fortunately the effects of genetic vulnerabilities and environmental stresses are not etched in stone. Protective factors, such as those listed in the chart on page 19, can shield the child from genetic or environmental risks. In other words, these protective factors can increase the odds that an at-risk child can still be successful. The greater the number of protective factors, the greater the chance that the child will reclaim normal development.
Skills-building strategies can help a child get along better in everyday life and can boost protective factors. Many of the protective factors listed in the chart are essentially skills (e.g., behavioral and emotional regulation skills) or can be the by-products of the success that comes with having such skills (e.g., positive parent-child interactions). The bottom line is that a skills-building approach can enable a struggling child to make progress and succeed. There is room for optimism and hope if you take effective action by helping your child build developmental skills!
What Is the Next Step?
Having read this chapter, you should now have a better understanding of your struggling child. For whatever reason, your child may be behind in skills development and is now struggling. Most children learn developmental skills implicitly through everyday interactions with parents and others. But a child who is behind needs to have those developmental skills taught explicitly. A child can be taught skills to help him or her shift from struggling to successful. In addition, parents and family members can be taught skills to help them move from stressed to coping. In this process protective factors will gain a boost that will keep your child and family on track. The next chapter will guide you in creating a skills-building plan of action for your child and family.
Getting Back on Track
Coming Up with a Skills-Building Plan for Your Child and Family
In Chapter 1, I propose taking the view that a struggling child has gotten off the developmental track. The good news is that the child can get back on course with a skills-building approach. In this chapter you'll have the opportunity to identify specific parenting strategies that will build the skills that your child and family need. It's time to come up with a plan and then get going!
Examining How Child and Family Are Doing
Let's take a closer look at your child's developmental struggles and/or the parent/ family concerns that you started to familiarize yourself with in Chapter 1. Use the Examining How Your Child and Family Are Doing chart (at the end of this chapter) to rate your child, self, and family. If you are working with a practitioner, he or she can give you a valuable perspective here and help ensure that you are focusing on the most important areas.
Selecting Skills-Building Strategies to Strengthen
The next step is to identify the areas you rated a 1, 2, or 3: These are the areas that you will target in your skills building with your child. The skills-building chapters in this book (Chapters 4–20) are divided into six sections that correspond respectively to the four areas of child development and the two areas of parent/family well-being. The chapter summaries that follow will help you zero in on which individual chapters might help you work on the broader areas of concern that you rated as 1, 2, or 3. Keep in mind that the information in each chapter of this book can be applied broadly to children in the 5- to 17-year-old age range, but there are tips on tailoring the strategies for a younger child, an older child, or a teen.
You may not be entirely sure of which chapters to tackle first. Use your best judgment and choose those areas and chapters that seem to match your goals for your child and family. Your practitioner can help you think this through. It could be that several areas and corresponding chapters appear to be useful. You cannot do everything, however, so you need to focus and select one strategy to begin with. Figuring out what to work on is a very important step.
Enhancing Your Child's Behavioral Development
Chapters 4–7 contain ideas and strategies for dealing with misbehaviors. You will learn techniques for building the parent–child bond and "managing" a child. This cluster of chapters is often the best place to begin for a child rated as struggling in behavior development.
Chapter 4. Doing What You're Told: Teaching Your Child to Comply with Parental Directives
These strategies can be used to teach your child to comply with reasonable directives and to avoid related parent–child power struggles. In this chapter you are taught how to give an effective command, to give an effective warning using an "if–then" statement, and to follow through by putting a child in time-out (preschool or elementary age) or by taking away an age-adjusted privilege (all ages). Chapter 7 is often used in conjunction with Chapter 4.
Chapter 5. Doing What's Expected: Teaching Your Child to Follow Rules
Procedures are presented for clearly stating house rules to your child and for making sure those rules are followed. There are also suggestions for stating and following through with situational rules that pertain to a particular event or place away from home, such as in a restaurant or at a relative's home. Chapter 7 is often used in conjunction with Chapter 5.
Chapter 6. Doing the Right Thing: Teaching Your Child to Behave Honestly
Ideas for quelling dishonest behaviors such as lying, sneaking, cheating, or stealing, and for promoting honesty, are provided in this chapter. Different methods are presented for a child whose dishonesty is impulsive, for one whose dishonesty is related to the influence of peers, and for one who seems to view dishonesty as an acceptable way to get what he or she wants. Chapter 7 is often used in conjunction with Chapter 6.
Chapter 7. Staying Cool under Fire: Managing Your Child's Protesting of Discipline and Preventing Angry Outbursts
This chapter provides information and techniques that can help you deal effectively with your child's protests (whining, tantrums, talking back, refusing to go in timeout or give up a privilege, and so on) when you are disciplining for misbehavior (defiance, rule breaking, or dishonesty). Procedures for preventing angry outbursts from your child, such as routines, rules, and redirection, are also described.
Enhancing Your Child's Social Development
These chapters provide ideas and strategies for enhancing your child's social competence. You will learn methods for targeting, teaching, and guiding your child to use social skills and for assisting the child in coping with challenging social situations.
Chapter 8. Making Friends: Teaching Your Child Social Behavior Skills
Suggestions are given for teaching and coaching your child in the development of positive social behavior skills. This includes identifying social behaviors to work on (e.g., sharing or negotiating), as well as teaching and coaching the social behavior(s) with your child.
Chapter 9. Keeping Friends: Teaching Your Child Social Problem-Solving Skills
In this chapter you are told how to teach your child to recognize when a social problem exists and how to use a step-by-step process to solve that problem. This includes discussing and practicing social problem-solving skills with your child and using social problem solving to help siblings resolve conflict (if applicable).
Chapter 10. That Hurts!: Helping Your Child with Bullies
You can assist your child with the situation if he or she is bullied. First you are encouraged to take steps to organize adults (e.g., parents, teachers, neighbors) to be observant, coordinate with each other, and intervene whenever a bully's behavior is directed toward your child. You also are given ideas on how to teach and coach your child to ignore and/or be assertive him-or herself.
Chapter 11. Hanging with the "Right Crowd": Influencing Your Child's Peer Relationships
This chapter focuses on what you can do to reduce negative peer influences on your child while increasing positive peer relationships. Specific techniques to monitor and supervise your child's peer-related activities are noted. You are also taught how to teach and coach your child in peer-coping skills. With your support, your child can learn how to identify and avoid certain situations with peers, as well as to be assertive in handling peer pressure.
Enhancing Your Child's Emotional Development
The strategies in these chapters can be especially important for a child who is prone to worry, sadness, and/or anger. You will learn to teach your child to deal with and manage feelings better so that the feelings don't manage the child. These chapters take a lot of work and call for your child to be fairly motivated (see Chapter 3). (Continues...)
Excerpted from Skills Training for Struggling Kids by Michael L. Bloomquist. Copyright © 2013 The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission of The Guilford Press.
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