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The Guidance Approach for Children with Learning Difficulties

Written By Geoff Nixon . September 7, 2021

An Alternative Response to Children’s Behavior

If you’re struggling to manage a difficult relationship with your child, you’re not alone. For every picture-perfect family with seemingly perfect children, there are ten more where things are a little bumpier. Every family is different, and every child is different. And while some might naturally want to please you at every turn, there are just as many who struggle to moderate their responses.

Years ago, people might have recommended more discipline and punishment, but we now know that discipline doesn’t result in happy, well-adjusted children. Fear might be enough to keep children in line, but it also stifles their personalities.

Then came the rewards approach, effectively bribing children to behave well.  This has its own issues, including the thorny one of sending the wrong signals. Good behavior is connected to rewards, not to a code of what’s right or appropriate.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to punishment and to rewards, and the guidance approach is one of them.

What Is the Guidance Approach?

Unlike reward or punishment-based parenting and teaching styles, the guidance approach doesn’t use a carrot and stick method of controlling behavior.

Instead, it recognizes that children, like all of us, inherently want to be a good and positive part of society. They just need to know how to do that.

When they exhibit behavior that we see as antisocial or unacceptable, it’s not because they want to be bad. Rather, it’s because they don’t have the knowledge or skills to handle their emotions in a better way.

So, the guidance method was developed by Dr. Louise Porter.  It was developed for early childhood education, but has a logic to it that applies to children with learning disabilities.  It focuses on showing and teaching children how to share their thoughts and feelings in responsible, constructive ways, rather than acting out – in real time.

Guidance for Children with Learning Disabilities

Very often, children with learning disabilities struggle to follow the rules and steps their teachers set out. This is not because they don’t want to comply, but they might struggle to focus or to comprehend. Or they already know it’s beyond them, e.g., reading out loud to the class, and reading humiliation lies directly ahead.

Children with learning disabilities struggle to “fit in” with societal rules, and struggle to pick up the cues that others might naturally notice.  Or they do know where the behavioral lines are, but still choose to act out – on defiance or avoidance – rather than face humiliation, the lesser of two evils.

Instead of overloading these children with more abstract rules, or punishing them for infractions they didn’t even realize they were guilty of, the guidance method focuses on coaching children on better ways to interact.

What Does the Guidance Method Teach?

Most of us learn the unwritten rules of how to interact with the world organically. We don’t need anyone spelling them out explicitly for us. But when you don’t interact with the world in quite the same way, that can be a lot harder. And if the choices you face as a disabled child include humiliation or letting teachers or parents down, your picture is not quite as simple.

The guidance method focuses on using moments of misbehavior to coach children in these skills, to talk through the other options, to think about more appropriate ways out of the problem they are reacting to.  It’s a just in time way to help children have better interactions with their world.

Some of those skills include:

  • The ability to discern right from wrong
  • Self-regulation of emotions, how to try to remain calm
  • Confidence that they are loved and have a role to play in society
  • The ability to cooperate and collaborate

Of course, each child is an individual, and some might cope better or worse with some of these concepts. But giving any child the skills to interact more calmly with the world makes them happier and more empowered.

Core Principles of the Guidance Method

Unlike punitive parenting, where the focus is on punishing children for things they do wrong, or helicopter parenting, where the focus is all on praise for achievements, guidance-based parenting is all about calm, measured response.

Instead of praising good choices, parents who choose the guidance method acknowledge their children’s choices and discuss the outcome. Then they consider what might be done better of differently next time, or why this was the best choice for that particular situation.

The guidance method also acknowledges that while children might have strong emotions, and they may result in acting out, most children just need the space and support to process those feelings.

Children want to be better citizens, if you can show them how.

Calm discussion of the problem that is causing them frustration or anger, or just a hug to let them know you still care goes a long way to learning moderated responses.

Calm Is Good

There aren’t many children out there who won’t have the occasional meltdown. Or that don’t get angry, frustrated, or upset when things go wrong. But there aren’t many parents who are always calm either. The guidance method teaches families a calmer, more rational and measured approach, and gives them the tools to deal with even the most explosive situations.

Your child won’t always be able to control their responses, but if you teach them how to, they’ll be able to make better choices. Eventually, you will find that you have a kind, thoughtful and calm child, without the fear or punishment.

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