Hesperian Health Guides

How to manage your child’s behavior

In this chapter:

Deafness does not cause bad behavior, though it may seem like it does. A child who cannot hear well communicates mainly through his behavior — just like a hearing child whose communication skills have not yet developed.

Parents need to pay close attention to how a child who is deaf or cannot hear well is behaving. It takes patience to understand what your child is communicating to you with his behavior and learn how to communicate your expectations.

Learn to recognize the signals that tell you problem behavior is about to begin.

A woman speaking to an unhappy boy; another woman stands near by thinking.
We have to go home right now, Paulo.
Paulo looks surprised and unhappy. He may start to yell and cry soon.
If Paulo could hear, he would have heard his mother and grandmother talking and known they were leaving soon.

He would have been better prepared for what would happen next.

Since Paulo cannot hear well, he is surprised when his grandmother tells him they have to go home. Like Paulo, deaf children experience surprises all the time.

Children who can hear learn good behavior more easily, and at a younger age, than children who cannot hear. Children may go through times when they say 'no' to everything a parent wants them to do. These behaviors can be very frustrating to a child's family, but they are normal and usually go away when a child learns better self- control.

An unhappy girl rubs her eyes and cries.

It is much more difficult for a child who cannot hear well to learn self-control. When people cannot communicate with deaf children, the children become frustrated, upset, or angry. They cannot understand why they must do certain things or what is happening around them.

Try to prevent problems from starting

When your child behaves badly, ask yourself, 'What is my child trying to tell me?', 'What does she need?'. Remember that your child's behavior is one of the ways she communicates with you. Because she cannot communicate in words or signs, she is often telling you something with her behavior.

You may be able to avoid certain behavior problems if you understand what causes them. Your child may:

  • need attention. She may have learned that she gets more attention if she behaves badly.
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  • feel tired, hungry, or afraid of something.
  • not understand what you want. Or she may want something but
    be unable to communicate it so you understand.
  • have been teased or treated badly by another child or adult.
  • be copying another child's behavior.
  • not be able to meet your expectations. Or she may be resisting limits that you have set, or showing you she does not want to do what you want.

Even though you may understand why your child becomes upset, there will be times when she gets upset no matter what you do. But if you can see a child's behavior as her way of communicating with you, you may be able to take care of the child's need before it becomes a problem.

How to set limits

Even when your child behaves well, there are times when you have to tell your child 'no', and set limits on the child's behavior. This may be to keep your child safe, or because he is misbehaving, or because he wants to do something you cannot allow him to do. Children of different ages
need to have different limits. The
A man scolding his daughter, who looks confused and cries.
Anita does not understand what her father is telling her.
limits you set will change as your child gets older and learns more about the world.

Because your child cannot hear well, sometimes she will not understand what you want. When you say 'no', or you tell your child what you want her to do, you may not have enough communication skills to make her understand. You may think your child is ignoring you or misbehaving, when in fact she does not understand what you want or do not want her to do.

When you want to limit the child's behavior or change what the child is doing:

  1. Tell him. Before you say 'no', think about it carefully. When you say 'no' you should be firm about it.
    A man speaking to his son as he leaves.
    No, you must stay here.
    If you let your child change your mind by his bad behavior, then he will learn to misbehave in order to get what he wants.

    Once you tell your child that he cannot do something or have something,you should not change your mind just to stop his crying.

  2. Show him what you mean.
    A woman holding glasses and signing to her small boy.
    These are Papa's eyeglasses, Sunil. They are not for playing with!
  3. Use pictures to make
    the request clearer.
    A man speaking to his son as they cover a well.
    You must cover the well or someone could fall in!
    Pictures are especially helpful
    for things that are hard to communicate — like how a child's actions affect others.
  4. Help him do as you request.

If the deaf child has trouble understanding what you requested, show him by doing what you mean.

Ways to manage behavior that do not work well

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Families with deaf children may be faced with behavior problems they do not know how to handle. They sometimes use solutions that work for them at the moment — even if those ways do not help the child learn good behavior. Here are some examples of things that do not work well:

  • Using commands without explaining the reasons for them or what they mean. This prevents the child from making good decisions by himself.
  • Punishing a child who is deaf more than other children. Physical abuse can make a child depressed and violent.
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  • Allowing the misbehavior of a child who cannot hear well to continue without correcting it. This makes the child more socially isolated.
  • Keeping a child who cannot hear well at home more than other children. This holds back the child's social development.

While these methods may seem to work for the moment, they will not help a child learn how to behave well or interact with other people.

All parents want their children to behave well and grow up to be accepted members of the community. For your child to develop self-control, your own self-control can be a model. Show your child the kind of behavior that makes anyone a good person to live with.

How to help your child calm down when he behaves badly

A boy sits in a corner while his mother cooks. A clock is on the shelf.

When your child is behaving badly, take him to a different spot and make him sit for about 5 minutes (less time for a very young child). If he tries to leave before the time is up, start the time over again. Do not leave him alone. You can use a 'time out' like this to give your child a chance to think about his behavior and how he can do better. 'Time outs' also give you time to calm down when you are frustrated and upset.

A frustrated woman signing to her small boy.
Omar, kicking your brother is wrong. Let's think of another way you can
let him know when you are angry.

Before giving him a 'time out', hold him firmly and explain to him how you want him to behave. When he is calmer, communicate with him about why he needed a 'time out' and about how his behavior affects others. Always remind him that you like him, but that you do not like the way he acted. Encourage him to talk or sign about what happened and why and how he could react differently. Help him understand why he needed the 'time out'.

What to do if your child has a tantrum

As with many other young children, your child's anger may become a 'temper tantrum'. A tantrum is when a child completely loses control and screams, kicks, hits, or cries. Children who cannot communicate easily usually have more tantrums than other children, and it may be harder to calm them down.

It is important for you stay as calm as you can. Take a minute to decide what to do. Here are some useful ways to deal with tantrums:

  • Do not try to explain things to him once he has lost control. This is not the time for a discussion.
  • Do not respond to your child's screaming and kicking, but do not leave him completely alone. His behavior may frighten him and he needs you nearby for security.
A man and 2 children eating at the table while a small angry boy is led away by a woman.
Take a child who is having a tantrum away from the situation if you can.
  • Do not spank, pinch, shake, or scream at your child. This will only make the tantrum worse. But do not let him hit you. You can hold him, but only to prevent him from hurting himself, hurting you, or breaking things.
  • Try to distract a child during a tantrum. For example, if your child yells because you have taken something away from him, you can try to offer something else that he wants or show him something unusual. This works better with very young children.

If the tantrum is in response to a limit you have set, do not allow your child's behavior to change the limit. If you give in to your child's behavior, he will learn that he can get what he wants from you by having a tantrum.

A woman holding her crying child.

When your child misbehaves or has a tantrum in public

If a child behaves badly in public, pick the child up if you can and remove her from the situation. Try to act calmly and without anger. Take her out of the store, away from the market, or wherever the problem happens. If you can, find a private place for her to calm down. If necessary, have someone else stay with her while you finish what you need to do.

It may seem easier to keep a child at home than to worry about behavior problems in public. But it is important for all children to learn how to behave in public and to be part of the community.

Our actions are powerful teachers

As with any family, it is very important for a family with a deaf child to set a good example. The family must act the way they want their deaf child to act, and encourage their child by explaining what kind of behavior they like. But it is not easy to set a good example and encourage children to behave well.

A girl points and signs to her little brother.
No, Oscar!

Raising small children can often be frustrating. And when communication is difficult, it is even harder to teach a child how to behave. Because communication with deaf children is more difficult, parents and other caregivers may become frustrated with them and hit or shake them. See Chapter 14 for more information to help parents and caregivers.

It can be hard for people to change the ways they discipline children. Most people discipline children the same way they themselves were disciplined as children. But when we handle our own frustration without becoming violent, we are sending our children a powerful message that they too can handle frustration without violence. Here is a story about how one group of parents worked to change the way they disciplined their children.

Parents in Mexico find another way to discipline

In Oaxaca, Mexico, a preschool program for deaf children was started by a social worker and a teacher. Every day parents came to the program with their children. The parents participated in the activities with their children and they supported each other.

After a while, the parents began to notice how often they hit or shook their deaf children. They talked it over with the social worker and decided they wanted to find another way to discipline their children. The social worker explained the idea of a 'time out': taking the child away from the problem situation and having the child sit quietly for a few minutes.

The parents decided it would help them to stop hitting their children if they fined themselves a few pesos every time they hit or shook their child. They put an empty tin can on a shelf to hold the money. At first, almost every parent was putting money in the tin can every day. But the fines helped them to stop and think before they hit or shook their children.

A small group of men and women talking together.
Maria always grabs things from her sisters. They let her do it because she is little. But she is getting bigger and she should
know better.
Hugo used to do that. I found myself hitting him a lot, but I couldn't explain why it was wrong. I used to feel angry and sad at the same time.
It is getting better as we learn to communicate. But it takes so long to learn! I try hard not to get angry.

As they tried new methods and improved their communication skills, they noticed that their children were behaving better. At the beginning, it did not seem easy to change how they disciplined their children, but now they almost never hit or shake them.