By Christine Marchant
There many ways a child will show you that he or she doesn’t want to cooperate. There are many reasons the child isn’t cooperating. Although it may be difficult to figure out why a child is behaving a certain way, it may be counterproductive to make assumptions regarding the motives of his or her behaviour. In the previous post I described how I responded to the volatile child that verbally attacked a CDF (child development facilitator) with everything he had in his skill box. These are the children that are the hardest to love and accept. They tend to push away everyone, which is sad because they really are in need of the love, smiles, hugs, acceptance, and guidance from an adult. In this post, I will describe how I respond to the child that runs away, or darts and hides. These children are difficult to communicate with because they resist by removing themselves from what they see as a threat. These children will refuse to participate in activities and often will climb railings, shelves, counters, tables, etc. Taking these children outside is a HUGE danger!
Communicating with these types of children takes a lot of quiet body and patience. It looks like you are doing what the child wants, but that’s because you are! You need to guide the child to do what you want him to do, and you do this by guiding him towards what he is interested in. If you only provide the activities that you want the child to do, and it’s something that the child loves, you will be able to engage him.
Bringing activities that the child loves isn’t going to be enough for these children because this can lead to them becoming rigid and manipulating you into doing what he wants to do, the way he wants to do it. The point of being a CDF is to be the one in charge of bringing the child along and developing a relationship and maturity. I am always talking about meeting the child on his level. This means going to where the child is always running to. If it’s in his bed, have the session on his bed. If he’s running to the top floor landing overlooking the family living area, you go there. If it’s under the table, you go under the table. I once spent half a preschool morning under a table, lying on my belly, watching the class mates and the child I was with help my hand the entire time. I didn’t make any demands, or have any expectations of him. We laid there watching the other children playing. When you go to their safe place, you will see why he choses it and you will get a better feeling for the ‘why’ he’s doing what he’s doing.
If you are working with children, this is where you start the session. As a parent, you are always keeping this goal in mind. The goal is to keep the child regulated and engaged. You want to continue building a relationship with the child and slowly move him from his safe place to a more functional area. This is the fastest way with the least amount of stress and fuss. This can take thirty minutes up to a month. When I have this type of child, I bring my picnic blanket. I place it in the child’s safe place. This is a bridge between the safe place and the place you are going to be. Change only 1 thing at a time. Change is a stressor for these children. Keep the location and the activity, and change the bridge.
Once the child is comfortable and eager to sit and stay on the blanket doing the activities he enjoys, you start to drag the blanket towards the new spot. Some will drag the blanket back to the original spot. You just calmly say, “It’s ok. It’s only a couple of inches, leave it here.” The child will usually accept it. Once the child is comfortable here, you drag it a couple of inches towards the new spot, and you just calmly reassure him that it’s only a couple of inches and it’s ok. Just keep repeating this. Always keep the activities fun and do what the child is engaged in. Keep the blanket, but the only change is the dragging of the blanket to the new place.
When you are doing this, you must remember that the goal is not the activities. The goal is to keep the child calm, engaged, regulated, and moving to the targeted area. When you finally get to the target area, you change the goal. Now the goal is to move the child up to the next level of play, or maybe speech, or social thinking. At this point, the child is now calm, trusting, and has a relationship with you. Keep the blanket and change the activity. You can do occupational therapy, speech, or just play or read on the blanket. The blanket has now become their safe place.
When the child is now engaged in the targeted goals, you will be leaving the blanket more often for longer periods. Eventually, you will remove the blanket. Sometimes the child notices it, but if you time it correctly, he won’t even notice and eventually, you just stop bringing it. This can be the tricky part. With the blanket gone, you must keep the activities fun and the child engaged. Don’t introduce an undesired activity while the child is transitioning to the new place. Make sure that the child remains calm, which may mean that you drop your expectations or demands on the child. If the child does start to get escalated, it is a good idea to keep his favourite toy or book nearby. It’s also ok to be goofy and make silly faces or engage in a lighthearted way that makes the child feel more comfortable. Regardless of the behaviour, every child is still just a child.