Secondary Behaviours

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Secondary Behaviours

What is secondary behaviour?

Secondary behaviour is the inappropriate, disrespectful, 'tantrumy' behaviour that your child or adolescent engages in when you have intervened or challenged them over something they were doing.

Common examples of secondary behaviour include:

muttering under their breath
stamping feet
slamming doors
thumping walls or doors
banging down what ever they have in their hands
throwing things on the floor, anything non-breakable - things like paper, books and cushions

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How should you respond to secondary behaviour?

The best way of dealing with secondary behaviours is to ignore them. This is easier said than done as it is often these secondary behaviours that ignite our own fuses! As parents we can get incredibly angry at this wilful challenge to our authority and lack of respect. But, when we do respond to these behaviours we ultimately fail to alter the child's behaviour in the long term. This is because when we respond we tend to do one or more of the following:

model angry and possibly aggressive behaviour which they learn to copy
become focussed on the secondary behaviour and the key message regarding the primary behaviour is lost
escalate the situation into a complete 'melt down' and be left feeling 'drained', 'de-skilled' and unable to cope
build up further anxiety, resentment and low self-esteem in the child

When we ignore the secondary behaviour we are more likely to maintain control over the situation. We remain focussed on our original instruction that we want the child/adolescent to comply with and we avoid being drawn into a different argument. Ignoring the secondary behaviour is difficult and it can be useful to:

give initial instruction and walk away
avoid eye-contact after the instruction has been given
go back to what you were doing before the incident
remember that the secondary behaviour is there way of 'letting off steam'
focus on our own self-calming strategies

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

How do you ignore a child's behaviour?

Sleep Problems

Social Story Examples

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