I was really interested to see a new series on Channel 5 called “Britain’s Naughtiest Nursery” this week. It featured 3 preschool children with fairly common, but challenging behavioural issues. One child lacked confidence in nursery and clung to her comforters, whilst at home her behaviour was destructive, one was hyperactive and impulsive and one had frequent meltdowns, sometimes biting herself or her parents. The highly skilled psychologists managed to improve all of these difficult behaviours using a number of well- known parenting strategies. These included offering one to one attention, praise, distraction, structured activities, boundary setting and planned ignoring.
When it comes down to it though, all these different problems had at their heart, an inability to manage emotions- the children simply hadn’t got the skills! This is hardly surprising considering that the children were 3 and 4 years of age, but this is often not appreciated by some adults. The success experienced was in part due to the strategies implemented, but had much to do with improving relationships. It was interesting to see the parents observing their children in the nursery setting and realising that their child’s behavioural issues were an expression of an emotional need. They started to have a different understanding of their child’s needs which resulted in them reflecting on how they respond to their child. Did it help or hinder?
It’s important to understand how strategies can help, but essential to support young children by attuning to what they are trying to communicate and containing their distress. Our adult, mature brains can help to soothe and calm a child’s immature brain. This, in turn, helps them to begin to develop the skills of emotional self-regulation. Until this is learned, simply employing strategies will have limited success. The psychologists at the nursery also noted the importance of parents having the confidence to know that these behaviours were part of a developmental journey and as such did not to be catastrophised or projected into the future. A calm and measured response is often all that is needed to help move things on. If you would like the chance to reflect on what your child is trying to communicate and learn to tune in to his or her needs better, I can support you. Just get in touch!