Ten Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior

Special strategies for special needs

Most of us start out parenting the way we were parented, and expect our children to react as we did. Children with special needs, however, are likely to throw us a curve. If the tried-and-true ways of your mother and father don't cut it with your son and daughter, it's time to make a change. The ten strategies here may go against what you've been led to believe about child-rearing, but exceptional children require exceptional ingenuity.


Father confronting son
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Think of bad behavior as a mystery, a complex whodunnit with clues and motives and red herrings galore. Who's responsible? What did they do? When, where, and why did it happen? Jumping to the same disciplinary conclusions every time your child misbehaves is like arresting the butler any time there's a murder to be solved. To get started, read "Why Does My Kid DO That?" and become a better parenting detective.



Think your child won't understand/comply with/care about a behavior chart? If you're thinking about a traditional chore-for-reward system, you may be right. But with a little creativity, you should be able to come up with a chart or similar motivational scheme that will give your child a reason to be more pleasin'. To get started, read "How to Make Behavior Charts Work" and tailor one to your own challenging child's needs and wants.



"Why does everything have to be such a fight?" That's something you may have asked your child a time or ten, but it's a question worth asking yourself, too: Why does everything have to be such a fight? Is every battle you choose worth picking? Focus in on goals that matter and wars you can win. To get started, read "Choosing Your Battles" and think about which behaviors you can really commit to changing.



"One-two-three" may be magic for some kids, but children with special needs may require extra time to do all the strategizing and motor planning it takes to move peacefully from one pasttime to the next. Forcing the issue with a quick three-count will most likely end in crabbiness and bad behavior -- and that's just from you. To get started, read "Counting to 10" and try a technique that gives everybody a little breathing room.



A little distraction is often all it takes to head off bad behavior. Having a constant, and constantly updated, supply of items and ideas to divert your child can make the difference between a whiny, fussy, tantrumy time and a fun, funny, contented one. To get started, read "Carry a Big 'Bag of Tricks' and start filling your purse or diaper bag with items that reliably captivate or motivate your child.


Set Get-able Goals

It's not bad to be ambitious for your child, or to have high hopes. But if you're setting the bar higher on a regular basis than your child can possibly reach, you're creating a constant experience of failure. Breaking big goals into little ones helps you build on success.


Transitions are tricky for children with special needs, and for their stressed-out parents, too. Better to think those dangerous changes of activity through beforehand than deal with the inevitable meltdown that occurs after a mismanaged one. To get started, read "How to Make a Transition" and think about allowing extra time, warnings, and compassion as you move your child through his or her day.



You know your child doesn't get figures of speech and tone of voice and sarcasm, you've advocated for others to be clear in their communication ... but when it comes to laying down the law at home, do you sometimes fall into the same traps? Clear communication is more important for you than for anyone. To get started, read "Say What You Mean" and make sure your expectations are as obvious to your child as they are to you.



Time-out can be an effective tool for kids with special needs, but sending a child to his room when his room is where he wants to be is counterproductive, and not so helpful when you're at the mall or the store or the park. As with everything else, you'll need to be creative. To get started, read "Top 10 Time-Out Spots" and pick one that works for your child or inspires you to brainstorm your own.



If you've found a tactic that works for your child, great! Enjoy the feeling of parenting competence while it lasts, because each new developmental change will likely require a new approach. Reading parenting books that deal specifically with special-needs behaviors can bring you a constant supply of fresh ideas and strategies. To get started, read the reviews in the Harried Parent's Book Club and get inspirations from experts and parents just like you.