When a child begins misbehaving, the first step should be to determine why they act in such a manner. After all, every behavior has a purpose. A behavior may also be caused, or “triggered,” by something in the child’s environment or in the situation. Learning to identify and avoid those behavior triggers can help prevent a problematic incident from occurring. While it can be difficult to identify behavior triggers, we have some resources for identification and strategies to explore that parents can use to deter acting out and reinforce positive behavior.
Examples Of Behavior Triggers
Parents, educators and experts have observed there are some common situations that seem to trigger problematic behavior. While each child responds to their environment differently, circumstances beyond their control and stressful events often set off misbehavior. These behavior triggers help explain why a child acts inappropriately.
Common behavior triggers at home often include unexpected changes and situations that make the child feel insecure. A child may act out after the birth of a sibling because he feels that he is not getting enough attention.
For many children, not getting their way can trigger misbehavior. She may be irritable and act out when told “no” or directed to do something that she doesn’t like. Parents also tend to notice increased incidents when a child has not slept well or is sick.
When at school, negative or unwanted attention can trigger outbursts. Children often misbehave after being picked on by another student. While most adults know that teasing or bullying can trigger a behavior issue, many are not aware that some children also respond negatively to unwanted praise.
Other common behavior triggers include overstimulation (bright lights, loud noises, etc.), transitions and having to interact with someone they don’t like.
How To Identify Triggers
You can help prevent acting out by identifying your child’s common behavior triggers. First, let’s define a behavior trigger. It can be any stimulus that precipitates an inappropriate behavior. Your child’s triggers may or may not be similar to our examples or what you have experienced with other children.
The best way to figure out your child’s behavior patterns is through observation. By carefully noting your child’s experiences and responses, you can look for significant details in those scenarios. When are they most cooperative or uncooperative? What can you observe about those times?
When your child misbehaves, record everything you remember about the situation. Who was present? What was occurring in their environment? Did anything happen immediately before? How did your child seem to be feeling before the incident?
Use this information to begin investigating the cause. What patterns do you observe with your child’s misbehavior? Look for opportunities to change the environment to deter future issues. For example, if your child regularly misbehaves when he is tired, an earlier bedtime may help mitigate the problem.
How To Use Triggers
You won’t always be able to avoid the situations that trigger your child. For example, if your child regularly misbehaves during transitions, such as being dropped off at school, she will need to learn to cope during those times. Fortunately, there are strategies that you can use to help your child better manage behavior triggers.
Talk to your child about the feelings he has before and during an incident. When a child misbehaves, feelings and actions are closely related. Teach your child to name and communicate feelings like disappointment, frustration, anger and sadness.
To help prevent future incidents, encourage your child to recognize the signs of becoming upset. Clue them in to the patterns you have observed, and explain the physical manifestations of a trigger, such as an increased heart rate or feeling of tightness in the chest. You should use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, you could tell your child, “I have noticed that when I tell you to turn off your game, you become angry and shout at me.” This frames the situation as a problem to solve together.
Some children respond well to cueing, a technique that involves communicating a predetermined signal to alert your child to a trigger. To cue your child, you might use a code word or perform a specific hand gesture. Your signal will tell your child to self-correct and choose a different course of action.
If your child doesn’t respond to your cue, tell him to take a break from the situation. Move to a quiet place where you can talk in private. Once your child is calm, let him know that you tried to give him the cue, but he didn’t use the response that you had planned.
Remind him of why you developed the cue and what the consequences will be if he acts out.
By identifying your child’s behavior triggers and implementing a plan to address them, you can give your child the skills she needs to better manage her behavior. At Lexington Services, we use these and other scientifically proven techniques to teach children positive behavior. We also work with parents to implement these same strategies at home.
Find out more about how our services can help your child overcome behavioral challenges.
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