Don’t yell…ACT! Managing Your Child’s Inappropriate Behaviors with the ACT Method. 

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When children have emotional outbursts, aren’t listening, show defiance or display other troublesome behaviors, it’s easy to become frustrated as a parent. What do you do and how can you foster emotional growth in your child while further nurturing their self-control and personal responsibility? 

The ACT method is a child-centered therapeutic approach that provides an optimal environment for behavior change in children ages 5-10. It aids parents in setting limits with their children, while avoiding power struggles or further escalating a tense situation. Try using the steps below of A-C-T next time you need to set a limit with your child. 

A – Acknowledging the Feeling

The first step in the ACT Method is to A-acknowledge what your child may be feeling. Verbalizing what your child may be feeling to your child helps foster a deeper self-awareness and maintains connection with your child in a more tense situation. This could look like saying,

“I can see you are really angry that your brother did not want to play outside with you…” 

Speaking in a calm voice, looking your child in the eyes, and even kneeling down to their level will help to “disarm”  them and support engagement. When we speak loudly or with a frustrated tone, children are less likely to really listen to the words being spoken because they feel shame. It’s easier said than done, but doing your best to speak clearly and calmly will be more effective and models how to stay calm.

C – Communicate the Limit

The second step in the ACT Method is to C-communicate the limit. What is it that you don’t want your child to continue doing? 

“I can see you are really angry that your brother did not want to play outside with you, but people are not for hitting…”

The way in which the limit is communicated is crucial in avoiding a power struggle. As opposed to saying  “STOP hitting!” or “You can’t hit!!” when you communicate the limit as shown above, you’re allowing your child the opportunity to really think about their actions. This allows for greater learning, giving the child the space to think, “How do I make this hard decision (to hit or not to hit) for myself?”

T – Target Alternatives

Once you’ve communicated the limit, the third step is T-target an alternative. Even for adults, it is much easier to stop a behavior or habit when we give ourselves something to replace it with (as opposed to just telling ourselves to stop doing something). Targeting alternatives is a prime way for parents to teach and nurture children to handle big emotions in a healthy way. 

“I can see you are really angry that your brother did not want to play outside with you, but people are not for hitting. You can hit the pillow in your room instead.”

The more we maintain a safe connection with our children, while teaching and modeling these coping skills for our children, the more likely children will follow suit and learn how to handle their big feelings. It’s important for parents to do their best at modeling healthy behavior as well, because adults feel big feelings too! So next time, when your child needs a correction in behavior, don’t yell… ACT! 

Counseling Can Help Your Child

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As a counselor in Greenville, SC at Wellspring, I (Margaret Kay Ko) use the ACT Method and a variety of other therapeutic approaches to help parents and children rectify some of the common challenges in this age group. If you’d like to learn more about the ACT Method, and advance approaches to ACT, please reach out. If you are experiencing social, emotional or behavioral challenges with your child, you can schedule an appointment with me by filling out the form on this webpage or contacting our Intake Coordinator at 864-214-2084 (Option 1).