Improving Behavior by "Helping the Whole Child"
In his clinical work with children, Dr. Greenspan found that the majority of a child’s behaviors are a result of both their sensory and their emotional regulatory systems. Their current and past sensory and emotional perceptions and experiences drive their behavior. The traditional response to a child’s behavior, a behavior plan, only addresses the symptom (behavior) that we see and not what really drives the behavior from the inside. While symptoms and the most obvious issues need to be addressed as with any illness, oftentimes the symptom is simply the outward manifestation of something that is going on inside.
Unfortunately, traditional behavior plans are based on techniques established from conditioning an animal’s outward behavior. It was behavioral psychologists' conclusion that changing the outward behavior could change the internal emotional state. Their goal indicates that something is going on internally with a child who is misbehaving. The only difference is whether you believe that an outward change in behavior will impact an inward state or if the goal should be to change the inner state and ultimately have a positive effect on the outward behavior.
Current scientific research and Dr. Greenspan’s clinical conclusions show that by changing a child’s internal state and improving the underlying emotional pattern, the behavior can modify itself. That doesn't mean we shouldn’t build in certain expectations, consequences and limits. But it does mean that we need to focus first on what's going on inside a child before we should expect to see a change on the outside. Because of the differences in philosophy and approach between a more developmental behavioral approach and a classical behavioral approach, we often see that when addressing a child's behavior at school or at home, we affect the symptoms in a positive way by changing the child's outward behavior, but rarely create comprehensive and continuous change in the child's emotional state. Unfortunately, from a clinical perspective, what we may end up seeing is a child who shifts from exhibiting one behavior to a new one.
To help a child continue to develop their social-emotional awareness and skills and improve their behavior, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. Dr. Greenspan offered this in his many books and lectures. The attached PowerPoint is a summary of many of his ideas.