By Christine Marchant
I have been a mother for over 30 years and I ran a private day home for 20 years. I was also a nanny, a child development facilitator for 6 years, and worked one to one with many therapists on many specialized teams for helping children. I have observed that there are many ways a child will show you that he doesn’t want to cooperate. There are many reasons the child isn’t cooperating. In this post, I will list a few ways the child may behave, and a few reasons why he may be using this tactic.
Sometimes an uncooperative attitude or behaviour is anxiety, attention seeking, stress, or previously learned behaviour. We don’t know what is happening inside the child, so we do need to be sensitive to the “why” and not just assume our own reasons for this behaviour. Too often, I hear adults say things like, “oh he’s being bad,” “He doesn’t like me,” “That kid is a BRAT!” or “He’s spoiled!” When an adult thinks these thoughts at the onset of the activity, it taints their approach and reaction to the child. These children tend to get a bad reputation because it’s very hard to work with a child who refuses to cooperate, especially when he is VERY LOUD and negative in this refusal. Some of their behaviours may include yelling, screaming, throwing things, hitting, running away, climbing railings, darting away, knocking things over, hiding, kicking, swearing, or being very passive and just laying there and staring at nothing, or closing his eyes, humming, reading a book, playing with toys and not acknowledging your existence. This is a child’s way of saying that they want you gone.
The child is a child, and he doesn’t even know that he is resisting to cooperate. Often his mouth is being disagreeable, while his brain is saying “What is happening?” This is the vital turning point of the session. When you find yourself locked into a battle with the child, you are at the critical point where it will calm down and go positive or it will completely fall apart. The way you handle the situation will set the tone not only for the session, but actually for the rest of the time you work with that child. You need to take control of the situation and set the tone right away. If you are finding yourself in this battle, drop all expectations. Put your lesson plan away, look at the child, stop talking and just wait. If you have just walked in, just stand silently at the door. If you are in the living room or at the kitchen table, just stop. Don’t put anything away, because this may be a trigger and set the child off. Just slow your breathing, and stand silent. Your body should be prepared for anything, but on the outside, you look calm and passive. Count to thirty and keep your eyes on him! He may throw a toy at you, or dash up, kick you or run away. Answer any questions the child may ask, in a calm quiet voice. Do not use an overly sweet voice because kids see right through it. Just answer normally with as few words as possible. It sounds silly and wrong, but just spend as long as needed in that spot. One day, I spent the whole session standing at the front door. The child threw a fit and ran away screaming every time I showed up. I just stood there, the mom chased the child, scolding and threatening and cajoling, and bribing etc, which just made it worse. When he didn’t get attention from me doing this, he’d greet me with a disdainful “what are you doing here?” This moved into a blatant swearing fest, and saying “I hate you”. I would just sit silent, and he would try to flip the table and throw toys. I continued to remain calm no matter what happened.
Eventually, he would desire my attention. When he reached this point, I knew he was ready for my input. I then printed out my expectations for the session. I also printed out the consequences for the ‘unexpected’ behaviours. This was an older child. He understood natural consequences and the token system. The approach I took with this child is not the same one I use with another child. When working with these children, we must ALWAYS remember that this is a child. A child is a child, and we should not put our life stories onto them. They are not inherently bad or bratty. We stay calm, and allow them to come to us. I honestly don’t know why these children behave this way. I’ve had many of these children in my day home, because these are children that were kicked out of all the other day homes, and the parents hear through word of mouth that Christine takes on the difficult kids. I took in every child, with every type of issue, and I just accepted each one the way they were, an each one was an amazing child. I was also a nanny for years. Now that’s a job! I’ve had a child who sat at the dinner table, looked me in the eyes and put her feet on the table and said “so, you’re the new nanny. I’ll tell you right now, you will not make it to the end of the month, we’ve had 4 nannies fired before you, DON’T unpack your bags” this was said by a beautiful, blond, blue eyed 9 year old girl. I worked there for a long time!
The point that I am making, is to meet the child at their level. This does not mean, that if the child swears, we swear, if he hits, we hit, or if he glares at us, we glare at him. It means that we put our lesson plans to the side, smile, and remain quiet and passive. I tend to do something while I wait. That one session I spent at the door, I literally did nothing. During another session with the same child, I sat at the table taking notes the whole session. I did not chase, follow, or try in any way to engage the child. I did not play with his toys in the hope that he would get curious and join me.
In the next post, I will share with you how I get the younger children who run away to cooperate. The one I described in this post was an older child, who was very volatile, verbally explosive, and aggressive. It took a long time but, my patience won the day. The child was such a little darling and sweetheart once he pushed through his block. The last time I saw him, he was a thoughtful, kind, and polite little boy. I was sad to move on.