Kids’ Behavior and Self-Image: Insights from a Child Psychologist

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Kids’ behavior and self-image were important themes from a recent Q&A with child psychologist Dr. Diana Barrett. In the Q&A, Dr. Barrett provides insights that aim to provide parents with valuable tools to support children’s emotional and social growth. 

So, let’s discover effective strategies for guiding our kiddos through their developmental journeys! 

Insights on kids’ behavior and self-image

Social stories

Dr. Barrett highlights the challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum in navigating the social world. To address this, she introduces the concept of social stories, a wonderful tool for preparing kids to face various social situations.

Social stories are personalized narratives that help children understand and respond appropriately to social cues. 

They can be created around everyday scenarios such as:

  • Morning routines
  • School preparations
  • Dealing with challenging situations like bullies. 

The goal is to empower children with the skills they need to engage confidently in the social world. Suppose a child struggles with interpreting social cues when people are talking nearby. The social story might read as follows:

“A group of people is talking next to me, and I feel angry because I think they’re talking about me. But even though I feel this way, they’re probably not talking about me. So when I feel this way, I can use my calming kit or take 10 deep breaths.”

By tailoring social stories to suit each child’s unique needs, parents can help them navigate social situations more easily!

Addressing temper tantrums

Dr. Barrett emphasizes the importance of understanding the root cause, or “antecedent,” of a tantrum. By doing so, parents can avoid unintentionally reinforcing undesirable behavior. For example, if a child throws a tantrum for attention, providing excessive attention may further encourage the behavior.

To effectively manage tantrums, it’s essential to identify a target behavior to replace the undesirable one. For instance, if a child frequently kicks and screams during tantrums, the desired target behavior might be maintaining a calm body. To make it more tangible, parents can even capture photos of their child exhibiting the desired behavior.

Once a target behavior is established, parents should focus on teaching the child appropriate coping strategies to achieve that behavior. 

Instead of kicking and screaming, alternative coping strategies could be: 

  • Smashing ice on the ground
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Jumping on a trampoline 

These coping strategies allow children to express their intense emotions—without resorting to a tantrum. It is crucial to practice these behaviors outside of tantrum situations to reinforce positive habits.

Motivation and reinforcement

Parents can involve their children in creating personalized motivators that encourage positive behavior. These rewards should align with each child’s preferences and interests! 

Reinforcement strategies can include:

  • Dot-to-dot charts
  • Token jars
  • Level systems 

These reinforcement strategies provide visual representations of progress. Younger children may benefit from more frequent reinforcement throughout the day, using fun colorful stickers, for example.

Dealing with transitions

For children struggling with transitions, Dr. Barrett suggests three strategies. 

  1. Using timers or visual devices that depict the passing of time can help children understand and prepare for transitions.
  2. Creating social stories around transitions and practicing them daily helps children internalize the expected routines.
  3. Providing choices during transitions allows children to feel a sense of control and involvement in decision-making.

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