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5 Approaches to Dealing With Behaviour Issues

behavioural-issues-with-childrenFrom early childhood to adolescence, misbehavior is a common concern for parents. When the acting out is frequent and/or severe, parents often seek assistance.

One problem parents face is the array of theories, books, courses, seminars and videos designed to help. It can become confusing and frustrating when trying to determine what course of action to take. In addition, the ideas expressed by the different experts are often contradictory.

This article will help to clear the confusion and present the five conventional approaches to addressing children’s troublesome behaviour issues.

#1 - Medical

The first expert parents usually turn to for help is the child’s pediatrician. After discussing the behaviours of concern, the doctor will probably conduct or arrange for a number of diagnostic tests. These can range from listening to his/her heart, to looking into his brain using the latest imaging techniques.

The doctor is looking for a medical cause for the inappropriate behaviour. If a medical problem is found and can be fixed, a medical solution is offered. Medical solutions can include:

  • surgery
  • drugs to resolve a clearly defined medical  issue (antidepressants, anticonvulsants, hormones, digestive enzymes, etc.)
  • assistive devices (glasses, hearing aids, etc.)
  • diet

I believe the medical approach should be the first line of inquiry for dealing with behaviour issues because no other course of treatment will be successful if, in fact, the cause is medical. Resolving the root medical problem (if there is one) needs to be the first order of business.

#2 - Biochemical

Often doctors do not find a medical reason for the inappropriate actions and the doctor might make an assumption that the child’s brain chemistry is unbalanced.

Many children are diagnosed with conditions like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and a host of others. Although none of these conditions have definitive diagnostic tests, it is believed that the child’s neurotransmitters need to be regulated and various medications can be used to put them into balance.

The number of children receiving behaviour meds have skyrocketed in recent years. These medications often provide tremendous help, but they can also produce troubling side effects. In addition, some parents are very much opposed to giving drugs to their children for behaviour issues. Careful monitoring by the child’s doctor is a necessity with the biochemical approach.

 #3 - Counselling

This treatment is often referred to as, “talk therapy." It involves communication between the child and the therapist.

The goal is to determine what the child is thinking and how he is feeling. The therapist attempts to help the child examine his thoughts about his world and look for more productive ways to deal with these thoughts.

“Talk therapy” comes in many forms but most require a considerable amount of time for a trusting relationship to be developed. The principles behind the counseling approach have been adapted for children with limited language and cognitive skill by employing play, art or music to explore the child’s feelings. Often times, counseling helps children put the issues in their life into perspective.

A downside of this approach can be that it is quite time consuming and sometimes children are reluctant to share their feelings with the therapist.

 #4 - Skills Acquisition

This approach assumes that a child’s behaviour issues result from a skills deficit and he needs specific instruction on how to cope with the demands of living. Social skills training and anger management classes are examples of the skills acquisition approach. The hope is that children will be able to transfer the skills learned in the therapy sessions into her “real” world at home and school.

#5 - Behavioural

Behaviourists believe that actions are learned (trial and error, reward and punishment). They believe that behaviours that happen repeatedly are in some way being reinforced. Typically, people do not repeat actions unless it is somehow working for them.

The behaviourist attempts to analyze the child’s conduct and determine how it is benefitting the child. They will then develop alternative ways for caregivers to respond to the child’s misbehaviour in hopes that the action will not be as reinforced as before.


When you want something to change – you must change something.

All of these approaches are attempting to change something.

The medical approach will attempt to change the child physically.

The biochemical approach will attempt to change the child’s brain chemistry.

The counseling approaching will attempt to change the way the child views and interprets the world.

The skill acquisition approach will attempt to change the child intellectually or cognitively.

The behaviour approach will attempt to change the way others respond to the child.

The first four approaches attempt to change the child with the assumption they are flawed or defective in some way.

The last approach is from a different perspective and asks the parent to consider changing the way they respond to their child, in order for the child to change his behaviour.

Often the best approach in dealing with significant issues is to combine a number of the above approaches. However, no matter how you combine them, remember the behaviour approach must be an integral part of your plan.

Have you tried any of the approaches in the past? In your particular situation, what approach did you find work the best?

Posted by Rick Harper in Teacher, General ← Previous Post Next Post →

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