David J Carey
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Understanding Behavior

Challenging Behaviour | Challenging_Behaviour_II


The Spirited Child


Writing in 1998, Kurcinka describes children she refers to as spirited. Using temperament as a starting point she identifies six parameters of behaviour characteristics that make some children difficult to content with. These are:


  • Intensity-powerful reactions
  • Persistence-not giving up easily, not changing one’s mind
  • Sensitivity-quickly responsive
  • Perceptiveness-notice everything
  • Adaptability-uncomfortable with change
  • Energetic-need to be on the move


Kurcinka makes a powerful case to support the idea that it is the responsibility of the adults in a child’s life to profile the child’s temperament, match it to their own temperament, and create environments and interventions that facilitate a balance between the two.


Whether or not we use the psychological definition of temperament of wish to conceptualise children as “spirited” there is growing evidence that some of what we call challenging behaviour results from biological traits and must be recognised and dealt with in an ecological perspective, adapting the surroundings, expectations, and methodology to the needs of the child.


 The Three Ages of the Child


Every child has three ages. The easiest one to comprehend is chronological age although even at this, seemingly most basic level, confusion can arise. Every 6th class teachers knows that children at this age differ widely in physical traits and characteristics. Some are clearly well into the beginning stages of puberty; some have not reached pubescence at all. Physical differences translate into different expectations about levels of maturity and behaviour. Children who appear physically beyond their age are often perceived, as being able to function at a more mature level than their brain will allow. So looks can be deceiving and it is important, as a general rule, to tailor interventions to chronological age.


The next age of the child is intellectual age. Intellectual age refers to the general level of intelligence of the child, that is, stated in lay terms, IQ. Intellectual age can be greater than or less than chronological age. Intellectual age tends to remain stable throughout the life span unless disease, trauma, or environmental toxins impact it. Children with General Learning Disabilities all have significantly below average IQ. This low IQ means that their level of conceptualisation, generalisation, abstraction, and comprehension will be below chronological age. We don’t speak to these children the same way we do to other children because of their intellectual deficits. Likewise, in the case of gifted or exceptionally able children, we match our language to their level of cognitive ability. Matching our interventions to the intellectual age of the child makes it likely we will create more effective solutions to behaviour difficulties.


The third age of children is their emotional age. This is where things can get a bit confusing. The emotional age of a child fluctuates with environmental factors such as stress, trauma, anxiety, and health status. A child’s emotional age can be well below their chronological or intellectual age. Take for example the nine-year old who pitches a fit after loosing a football match. He is acting like a three-year old in a tantrum. Now, what is important to realise is that emotional age can be below chronological or intellectual age but can never be truly above either of them. All children who appear to be mature beyond their years, who have “old heads on young shoulders” have been socialised to act that way, and it is an act. A good example is the child from a home in which there is severe alcoholism. They are often placed in a position of caring for the parent or other sibling. Becoming “adultified” they develop attitudes and vocabulary, a pseudo-sophistication, that is deceiving. When we interact with them at this false level of development things often go awry. As a general rule it is always advisable to intervene with a child at the level of their emotional age (remember-it can be below or equal to chronological and intellectual age, but never above it). This is especially true of discipline.


Getting the match right, perceiving the child as he or she truly is, is an important part of “fit” that hard to define essence of appropriate education and appropriate behaviour management.


Challenging Behaviour | Challenging_Behaviour_II



Dr. David Carey, EzineArticles.com Platinum Author 

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