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How to Discipline a Special Needs Child


Parents of special needs children are deeply invested in helping their kids develop appropriate social behaviors, and discipline is one of the tools they use for providing this help. It’s important to remember that discipline is not the same thing as punishment, but instead is a vital form of guidance through which parents show their caring. While there are some basic truths that apply to handling behavior problems in all children, those children who struggle socially, behaviorally and academically benefit from a specialized approach. Here is an introduction to meeting the challenge of disciplining a child with ADHD, learning disorder or other neurobehavioral disorder.

Establish Clear Ground Rules

One of the greatest struggles for some children with neurobehavioral issues is identifying and remembering the expected forms of behavior. Since the child may be so distracted by messages from his or her own nervous system, they may not be paying attention to the disruption their own behavior is causing. When parents provide calm, clear information about exactly which behaviors they expect from their child, it helps calm the confusion and inner turbulence that the child may be feeling. Clear instructions are essential to promote the child’s linear information processing, and this kind of instruction fulfills the parent's role as the child’s most important teacher.

Communicate Positively

Ignoring bad behavior and rewarding good behavior is one of the gentlest and most reliable methods of changing someone’s actions. By providing positive reinforcement at those times when the child fulfills behavioral expectations, parents create a safe, predictable environment. It is important to provide the praise or reward as soon as possible after the desired behavior, even if the positive reinforcement consists of a star on a wall chart. If the child must be told to stop doing something, this command should be phrased positively. For example, if the child is poking his brother, the parent can say, “Put your hand down at your side.” A child throwing things can be redirected to soft stuffed toys that are OK to throw.

Offer Choices Wherever Possible

Sometimes when a child is resisting something that they must do, such as getting ready for bed, the parent can defuse the tension by offering choices. A resistant child in this situation might calm down if they are given a choice of which pajamas to wear and which toy will join them in bed. This strategy hands some power back to the child, while allowing the parent to stand firm on the underlying disciplinary issue.

All of these practices are helpful, but understanding the root cause and what is happening in the brain of a child with different challenges, is critical to effectively addressing the problem. Once the exact nature of a child's struggles is identified, a customized approach can be developed to ensure that child reaches his or her potential.

To schedule an assessment for your child, or to learn more about how the Brain Balance Program can help your child reach their full potential, contact us online or find a center near you.


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