Validating emotions before punishing behavior

...quoted from the Autism Discussion Page, a very useful resource.

Validating emotions before punishing behavior

When a child is upset and acting out, we tend to focus on “stopping the behavior” as our first priority. When doing so we often punish the behavior, without first understanding “why” it is occurring. Often the child doesn’t have (1) good abilities to control their emotional impulses, and (2) have good skills in handling their reaction to their emotions. So, when we punish the behavior, we are punishing their emotions as well. This tends to invalidate the child, and does not teach them a better way of handling their emotions. I often recommend that whatever technique you use to reduce problem behavior, first “acknowledge and validate” the child’s feelings, then deal with the behavior. Try starting out the intervention this way:

1. Acknowledge that the child is upset "Wow..John, you really look upset to me!"

2. Next, validate that is ok to be upset, "I understand how that you are upset because you cannot have ______ right now. That might make me upset to." This does not mean you have to agree with him, or approve of his behavior, just acknowledge and validate how he feels.

3. Finally, help the child problem solve or understand when or how he might get what he wants. Focus on what you want the child to do, not on any negative behavior.

4. If the child is too upset to talk reasonably with you, simply say "You are too upset to talk right now. That's ok, you let me know when you are calm enough to talk." Then minimize any attention given to the upset behavior." Do not try and reason with a child who is acting out. So little emotion, speak matter of factly, and only reason and problem solve once the child calms enough to talk reasonably.
5. After the child calms down enough to talk, then return to steps 1-3.

This respects the child, even if we are punishing the behavior. Focus first on the feelings, not the behavior. “It is ok to be upset, but not ok to hit.” In order to reduce a negative behavior, you need to focus on training an better alternative way of responding to take it’s place. “How do you want the child to respond” when he is upset? Sit down with the child and work together to identify alternative ways of responding. Once you identify one or more, then practice and role play the desired response, until it becomes more automatic. Then, when the child is upset, validate his feelings, and then coach him to use the response you two have been practicing. You will find that you are then “teaching” the child, rather than simply punishing the child. The child see you as a “working partner” with them, and will try harder to develop more appropriate ways of acting.

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