Behaviour Management and PLD

Behaviour management can be tricky at the best of times. But what about when the child has a language disorder? Lengthy explanations and ‘if, then’ statements that infer delayed gratification can be frustrating for both caregiver and child, with lack of understanding from the child and a definite lack of appropriate behaviour response seen by the caregiver. Below are some behaviour management tips that we use routinely with our children. This is by no means prescriptive or exhaustive, just some things we have found to work along the way.

1. Be consistent – Have consistent boundaries across all environments. Use consistent language. Have consistent behaviour management steps. If the child knows what to expect, they are able to better understand what behaviour is acceptable, and the consequences for showing inappropriate behaviour.

2. Keep it short and simple – As our emotions increase, our logic decreases – this is the same for everyone. Children with language disorders have difficulty understanding at the best of times, so long winded explanations about what they have done and potential consequences for this will make an underwhelming impact. Keep it short and direct, like ‘Use your quiet voice’ rather than ‘When you shout it makes my ears hurt and everyone else cannot hear anything other than your voice and if you don’t stop shouting you are going to be in big trouble’.

3. Be specific – This carries on nicely from the last point. Being vague or general about the behaviour you are targeting leaves lots of room for misunderstanding. Instead of ‘You are on the quiet chair for being silly’, it is better to give specific examples of the ‘silly’ behaviour, ‘You are on the quiet chair for yelling out during circle time’.

4. Any attention is good attention – once the child has been given a consequence, do not continue to engage in interactions with them. Of course you may need to direct them back to the ‘quiet chair’ oraway from danger, but by engaging in conversation or excessive physical contact, you are reinforcing the behaviour.

5. Give visuals for task expectations – Remembering a task and working out the steps to complete a task can be overwhelming for our kids, leading to lack of focus and attention seeking behaviours. Often it is easier for our children to be the class clown than to ask for assistance with a task they do not understand. Have the steps the child needs to complete in picture form and keep checking throughout the task that the child understands the next step. Also have on the schedule any positive rewards the child will receive if they complete the task. e.g colour-cut-paste-iPad time.

6. Be positive – Sometimes it can feel like all we say to some children are negative phrases – ‘stop running’, ‘stop shouting’, ‘do not hit your friends’. Not only does this create a negative feeling around the child, it is reinforcing the behaviour by talking about it. Phrase behaviour directions in a positive light and remind the child of the behaviour you would like to see – ‘walking please’, ‘quiet voice’, ‘Use gentle hands’ and reinforce the good behaviours that you see – ‘I loved how you were walking on the concrete’, ‘What a beautiful inside voice you used’, ‘You are being such a good friend using gentle hands’.

7. Be in the moment – delayed gratification is difficult for our children to perceive. Time concepts can be difficult to understand and gauge, meaning that rewards using this framework can be meaningless and therefore ineffective. Using phrase such as ‘if you are good today, you can have a treat later’ are too general, with the child having to work out what ‘good work’ means and understand when ‘later’ is. It is better to frame rewards in the present and to have visual representations as explained above. ‘If you finish your colouring we will play on the computer’.

8. Take time out and ask for help – If you are becoming frustrated, you will let your emotions take over and any behaviour management will lose its effectiveness to this. It is OK to walk away and return when you are calm. If we have the opportunity we tag team behaviour management. This is where someone who was not directly involved in the incident follows up with the child, so that they are calm and rational when explaining to the child what behaviour was inappropriate and working through what actions the child could show next time to demonstrate positive behaviour.

If you have specific concerns, it can be helpful to engage professional advice and support from a child psychologist or to attend a Triple P Parenting Program.


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