First Understand These Key Ideas

Behavioral challenges come from one or a combination of three sources. Biological causes are things like ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, or being hungry or tired. There’s a clear biological issue resulting in challenging behavior. Reactive causes are the result of one or more experiences in the past or patterns of relating. These include reactive attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or patterns of arguing or meanness. The third cause is spiritual. This has to do with a person’s spirit and includes their personality, self-concept, identity, and what they believe about themselves and their place in the world.

Here’s an example of how they all are related. Billy, age nine, has ADHD. That’s a biological issue. He has developed an anger problem and tends to argue whenever corrected. That’s a reactive issue. Billy also believes that he is a trouble-maker and that he is stuck and can’t change. That’s a spiritual issue. So, the three causes often overlap and complicate a situation.

The fact that there are three causes for behavioral challenges means that there are several buckets of resources to help bring about change. But don’t limit yourself to the biological bucket for biological causes, or the reactive bucket for reactive causes. Drawing from all of the buckets at the same time can provide a multi-faceted approach to change.

2. Think in Terms of Tendencies

If you consider counterproductive tendencies in your child then you can identify heart-based solutions that will bring dramatic change. Jesus describes a person like a tree with branches and he says that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:33-34). Even a biological challenge in a child can benefit significantly from a stronger heart to address the impulses that exist.

3. What is the heart?

The Bible describes several things that are in the heart that work together. Desires (Psalm 37:4), emotions (Matthew 22:37), and beliefs (Romans 10:9) are all at work at the same time inside of a person and they contribute to change. These all contribute to attitudes, passion, and determination. In short, children need to develop life-skills and their current weaknesses demonstrate areas for improvement. In fact, the work they do now will not only benefit them for the short term, but they exercise tools that will be used for the rest of their lives.

4. Parents are the best therapists for children if they have a good plan.

Think about it. You spend hours a day with your child and you can turn common life events and activities into practice sessions to change tendencies a child has. You just need some goals, a strategy, and a plan. Once you identify those three things you can do research or get practical help to develop your strategic plan effectively.

5. Training is Key

Most children benefit more from training than from correction. Unfortunately, most parents rely more heavily on correction than training to bring about change. Training involves practice doing the right thing. Correction focuses on stopping doing the wrong thing. As you provide practice sessions for children and create drills and activities toward a positive goal, everyone benefits. The child catches a vision for improvement, the parent works more as a coach, the parenting is more positive, and affirmation is offered for internal growth, not just outward performance.

6. Character is Paramount

A character quality can be defined this way. A pattern of thinking and acting in response to a challenge. Any areas of weakness revealed by this inventory would benefit from character development. This practical approach not only identifies a character quality but it communicates working definitions that describe for the child what this quality would look like in their own lives. Think about character and you’ll be thinking about the tendencies of the heart. This idea opens the door to huge strategies for change.