angry child folding arms and looking at camera, reframing behavior

When children exhibit behavior that is challenging, parents reach into their toolbox and try different approaches. Sometimes, even with the best efforts by parents, things don’t get better.

What is often most frustrating and stressful for parents are challenging behaviors that are repeated over time and are disruptive to family life, hurtful to others or destructive to property. The next step to address these serious concerns is to work on the parent’s part — reframing the children’s behavior to gain a new perspective and then trying out different techniques based on a new mindset. Sometimes adults get stuck in a judgmental mindset and label children as just lazy, willful or defiant. With the reframing technique, the parent steps back and tries to adopt a new and more positive mindset that is more curious. Parents challenge themselves to reframe behavior and see if their current view of the child’s behavior can change.   

Reframing Behaviors 

The parent with the curious mindset asks these kinds of questions to help reframe behavior:  

  • Does the child have too many stressors?   
  • Do they lack the necessary personal and social skills to control their behavior?  
  • What needs are they trying to meet with their behavior?   

See a child differently, you see a different child.

Dr. Stuart Shanker

If parents can change the thought process from “He’s willful” to “What’s getting in their way?” and “How can I help?” the responses to children can then make a big difference. Reframing also involves trying to change negative thoughts and language into a dialogue that is more positive and supportive. For a student that does not perform, will not do homework and shows little effort, reframing means changing the story from “She is lazy” to “This student needs more motivation” or “This student needs help from an adult to get started on their work.”  

little girl with Down syndrome laughing with parents

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Reframe Behavior to Gain New Perspectives 

With a new perspective, the parent’s goal is to find and remove barriers and support the child as they make progress in learning behaviors that are kind, patient and respectful. Reframing is adopting an investigative approach to your child’s behavior that will help you see your child differently. Reframing allows the parent to find what barriers stand in the way of successful self-behavior management and then identify ways to remove these behaviors. Reframing behavior is tough work for parents and usually a departure from how they were raised.   

3 things you can do to reframe behavior and make improvements:   

1. Investigate. Look for what is stressing your child and reduce those stressors to enable better behavior. If they are tired, hungry, bored or frustrated, try to address those stressors to enable improved behavior.  

2. Meet their needs. Look for needs the child is trying to meet with their behavior and see if you can meet some or all of them, thereby minimizing the challenging behavior. Ask yourself if the child has physical needs that are unmet, is seeking attention from adults or wanting new activities that are more stimulating and fun.   

3. Teach skills. Look for deficits in children’s personal skills, and actively teach them the needed skills. Children can learn to wait for longer periods by using a kitchen timer. A timer teaches them to wait for just a few minutes, and then gradually increases their ability to wait for what they need in a way that’s age-appropriate. Teach children new skills in a calm setting with specific guidance. Show the child what the expected behavior looks and sounds like. Allow the child to practice the new behavior in different settings.   

Reframing provides parents with a new “frame” to look at our children’s behavior. It can turn a frustrating, chronic and negative situation into a time for positive growth and development.  

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All parents encounter challenges as their children grow up. And sometimes, issues may arise that leave you uncertain as to how best to respond. But not every issue requires therapy or counseling. The PACE program is here to help during those times.

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