Monday 28 May 2012

Brat Rage

A friend forwarded this article to me:

It talks about the phenomena of brat rage, where people take it upon themselves to physically discipline children who are misbehaving.  It’s a terrifying phenomenon for someone whose children have special needs but aren’t visually distinct from typical children.

I’ve seen it happen.  Another mother pulled her hand back to slap Alex while we were at the park.  I grabbed her arm and held it briefly.  She screamed something uncomplimentary and stormed off with her child.  I was grateful I was close and have fast reflexes but it could have been a very bad situation.

When did it become okay to physically hit or shove someone else’s child?  I can understand the frustration at misbehaving children, especially when the parents or caregivers are ignoring the problem.  After five years of being immersed into the world of autism, I can generally pick up the difference between a child with autism and one who is just running wild (although I try to give the benefit of the doubt). 

When a child comes up and snatches a toy from my child and then deliberately breaks it, I feel the same irritation and anger that anyone else would.  But I never forget that this is a child.  They don’t have the experience or knowledge to truly understand what they’re doing.  This is an unflattering metaphor, but a misbehaving small child is no different than a misbehaving pet.  It’s the parents (or owner) who haven’t done their job.

Those who support physically disciplining other people’s children say they’re teaching those children a lesson.  Teaching them that people won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour.  They’re deluding themselves.

Hitting a child just teaches them that bigger bullies call the shots.  Might makes right.  Teaching proper behaviour is a long, drawn out process.  Even with neurotypical children, it takes a long time, especially if you’re having to correct previously allowed activities. 

Take the example of biting.  From a child’s perspective, biting works.  Bite another child and they drop the toy you want, they leave you alone, they make a big reaction or the biter become the center of attention.  If any of these results are something the child wants, then biting is an efficient way to get there.  To teach the biter that biting isn’t a good behaviour, you first have to figure out why the child is doing it.  Then you can start teaching them alternative acceptable behaviours that will do the same thing and actively prevent them from slipping back to the old problem behaviour.  If the child has been biting for weeks, it can take months to fix the problem. 

A single incident of violence isn’t going to sudden teach someone the error of their ways.  It’s only likely to make the problem worse.  The only thing it does is provide a momentary relief of frustration for the attacker.

I expect adults to hold to a higher standard of behaviour.

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